Triple Tour de France winner Greg LeMond took some time out on his 53rd birthday to talk to cycling blogger Blazin' Saddles about this year's Grande Boucle.
LeMond - who will be making his Tour de France television debut for Eurosport this July - even forewent his country's slender 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup group stages to shoot the breeze about Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, asthma, TUEs and the absence of some big name riders from the peloton this July.
This is Part I of this exclusive interview - click here for part II.
Blazin' Saddles: Firstly, I'd like to wish you happy birthday...
Greg LeMond: Oh, thank you. I actually forgot it was this week. I kinda knew it was coming up. I'm pretty young right now... 48... sounds good? No, it's actually 53. I wish it were 42! If I could turn 10 years back, that'd be good.
BS: Then you could be like Jens Voigt and Chris Horner. You could be a reigning Grand Tour winner all over again...
GL: I just can't imagine that. Holy s***! I think you can do that [riding at 42] if you're not trying to win the Tour de France because it's pretty intense if you're trying to win the Tour, just psychologically. If you've been a winner of the Tour and then end up in the middle of the pack, that's a hard thing to go through. When I was 42, riding was almost like another life for me.
BS: Are you looking forward to your role at Eurosport this July?
GL: I've always thought that travelling every day as a journalist on the Tour's got to be harder than actually racing. The schedule is hard - you're always moving on one night in advance. It'll be fun though. I've never done TV before and this will be a good way to get back into cycling. I'm really looking forward to it.
BS: How come you retired from the cycling scene for so long?
GL: Mainly because of the Armstrong years. You know, I really couldn't follow cycling then. Until things had changed with the UCI I couldn't enthusiastically get behind the sport. I still love the sport - I always loved it - but to know about all the politics and back-room stuff going on... it was hard emotionally to think that it just wasn't going to change. But I think Change Cycling Now with Jaimie Fuller did a good job, and then there was the downfall of Armstrong in 2012 - and those were a couple of catalysts. Now with Brian Cookson coming in it's promising. The sport's going in a really good direction now. It's very exciting and there are a lot of young riders coming through, riders who weren't part of the Armstrong era. So, you know, it's a good time to get back into it. There are a lot of characters in cycling right now and it'll be fun to be at the Tour every day.
BS: UCI President Brian Cookson was under the spotlight recently with the whole Froome TUE backlash... What are your thoughts on this?
GL: I think Brian Cookson should be given the benefit of doubt on this one. Looking at it critically, if you can take a step back you can see that there was probably legitimate reason to do it [grant the TUE]. It's kind of a good lesson for the UCI to see how this poses a potential problem in the future and so let's address it now so there's no more backlash. I'd say it was a good experience for the UCI, but one they don't want to repeat. I didn't ever think that Brian Cookson was trying to favour anybody over anybody. If anything it was probably a push from the team [Sky].
BS: But should riders who need a therapeutic use exemption be racing in the first place?
GL: It's all about defining the rules. If the rules say you can get a TUE if you go through this process then it shouldn't be controversial and there should be a process in place to ensure that the TUEs are legitimate. But doctors shouldn't be giving someone a cortisone shot for an infection. If you have a hyper-allergic reaction or a knee swelling - that's when you have good reason for a TUE. But bacterial infections - you don't treat with cortisone. I don't know what Froome had. I assumed it was an allergic reaction. But a good medical doctor can make a determination on what merits a TUE. If you are sick, you're prescribed antibiotics; if you're too sick, you just go home.
The delicate thing is this: I suffered from allergies throughout my career and I've realised, post career, that I was drastically hindered by allergies during the month of May. But you can test for that - to see which pollens bring it on; these are legitimate back up tests for a TUE. Now the medication for things like this is cortisone, but it's obviously not the best thing to do to take cortisone throughout a three-week race. There's a delicate line. There are legitimate people who take asthma medication. It's fairly common. The physical demands of cycling is that it actually lowers your immune system and you expose yourself to a tremendous amount of elements - so certain people might get a chronic overload and develop, say, bad asthma. So, what's the right way to go? If you're a professional racer and it's not bothered you for ten years, then suddenly you're hit by an allergy - that's probably when you decide to apply for a TUE.
BS: Just look at the case of Diego Ulissi, one of those exciting young riders you perhaps alluded to earlier...
GL: As an allergy sufferer, it's interesting to look at this case. Grass is a very prominent allergen. My sister-in-law is one of the top allergists in the country and it's a legitimate issue - and so in this period of May and June some of these guys are probably really suffering. Now I'd take Salbutamol myself because if you let your asthma overreact then it can get worse. So it's a very delicate issue. The question you have to ask is whether or not you take Salbutamol with a TUE. You can do fairly simple tests and get the lowdown. I don't think that if you're suffering a major asthma attack then taking Salbutamol can really be seen as a performance enhancer. The reality is that asthma affects your airways and it has a huge impact on your performance. I experience a 25% drop in power output and that's me now in the poor shape I'm in. My performances in the Giro were constantly hampered by allergies.
BS: Right, controversies aside... is this year's Tour a shoot-out between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador?
GL: Yes, I think it's a two horse race. Initially I would say Chris would be the favourite because he won the year before. I'd say that Chris is going to have an advantage in the time trial and so Contador, in order to win it, is going to have to put some time on him before Perigueux. It's a very tough call. Although, maybe two weeks ago I would say that Froome was the big favourite but perhaps it's now Contador. For me, he's also the favourite. If I were a betting man, I'd go with him. I mean it's tight so hedging my bets I'd probably go with Chris, but if I start thinking about it then I start thinking maybe it will be Contador.
BS: What's your view on one notable British absentee?
GL: I do wish Bradley Wiggins was there. I don't know why, but I'd love to see a repeat of what I did with Hinault: have it straight up, split the team, let's see where we're at after the first mountain stages. I think going into the Tour with one leader makes sense when you just have one rider capable of winning the Tour. But when you have two riders capable of winning then you should take both - especially when you factor in the racing circumstances and crashes. Ultimately the team needs to win. I definitely can see the potential conflict but to say that Chris is stronger than Wiggins is not right because Bradley won it the year before, he wasn't there last year, and this year he seems to be riding - or at least was riding - in incredible shape.
It was bad management from Sky. If I were Wiggins I'd have been looking for a team to ride with before the Tour. They said he was a risk, but you cannot predict what happens on the Tour. Sky have decided to take a team based around one man. It sounds really good on paper but it discounts illnesses and accidents; real life doesn't work that way. They may need Bradley Wiggins.
BS: What about Nairo Quintana?
GL: I believe that Quintana is right up there with Contador and Froome - maybe even more talented than both of them. Second in the Tour last year and then winning the Giro - that's pretty incredible. Next year he may be the dominant rider and the new generation may be ready to take over from Chris and Contador. I don't know why Quintana's not racing this year. It's may be because they want to take a little pressure off him. But I'd rather win the Tour than the Giro any day. If I was second in the Tour I'd be wanting to go for the victory next year. My first Tour I was third [in 1984] and I was disappointed because it was my goal to win it. I ended up getting sick early on and was on antibiotics for two weeks - and Fignon was riding so well and we were on the same team.
I don't know the politics of Movistar. I think perhaps Alejandro Valverde has his own ambitions and maybe there was an agreement that he's going to be the leader for the Tour. But I don't quite understand because winning the Giro is physically just as hard as winning the Tour, and putting the effort on winning the Tour would be a much better return on your psychology and investment, but who knows? I don't know what Quintana thinks - but if I were him, I'd feel a bit like Bradley Wiggins: I'm superior to our other leader but now I'm being put into second position. But there might be other reasons - a long-term strategy that's being put in place - but I just don't understand it. What's more, I don't see Valverde as being a real contender for the Tour.
BS: Any dark horses to look out for?
GL: Andrew Talansky could be the surprise package. I was pretty impressed with him in the Dauphiné. Tejay van Garderen, too, has had some pretty impressive results and they're both reaching the age where it's time to find their own way. I'm sure they'll be competitive, but will they be as competitive as Chris Froome? I'm just not sure they're ready yet. Other potential surprises are Pierre Rolland of France, who's showed a lot of promise, and there's Thibaut Pinot who has also got a lot of potential. These riders are young and have impressive results. When you have dominant riders like Contador and Froome you have a whole group of others waiting for them to falter. When that happens then that's when the new generation can start to come up.
In Part II LeMond talks about the Grand Départ in Yorkshire, the battle for the green and polka dot jerseys, and the pressure piling up on Mark Cavendish's rounded shoulders. Greg LeMond will be making daily TV appearances as Eurosport's cycling consultant throughout the Tour de France this July. Greg also makes a cameo as Blazin' Saddles' unofficial mentor in Felix Lowe's book 'Climbs and Punishment: Riding to Rome in the Footsteps of Hannibal'.
Eurosport’s widest ever coverage
Eurosport will celebrate its 25th consecutive Tour de France in style with a record 350 hours of broadcast on Eurosport and Eurosport 2, including over 90 hours live, all in high definition. Live action is on Eurosport, with evening highlights and repeats the following morning.
Live coverage starts on 3 July with the team presentation in Leeds from 6.30-8.30pm. Greg LeMond and Eurosport’s presenters and journalists will be on-site to get the latest reactions from team managers and riders.
From 5 July onwards all stages are live, with ten broadcast in full including the opening weekend in Yorkshire, the third stage in London, the fourth in Lille, the fifth in Arenberg featuring the dangerous cobblestone section, the tenth in the Vosges, “La Planche des Belles Filles”, the 14th in the Alps in Risoul, the 17th and 18th in the Pyrenees, Plat d’Adet and Hautacam, and the final stage to Paris.
“LeMond on Tour”
Two “LeMond on Tour” 15-minute shows will be broadcast live every day from Eurosport’s on-site studio. The first previews the stage and is broadcast right before the live action. The show includes LeMond’s analysis, looks at the course profile and stakes of the day and features the latest rider and team interviews. Eurosport’s on-site crews will also broadcast exclusive behind-the-scenes reports thanks to unrivalled access to the teams. Fans will see how the teams relax or how Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team enjoyed the team presentation in Leeds.
The second “LeMond on Tour” show is a live review of the stage right after the podium presentation. The show features LeMond’s expertise, interviews with the riders and hosts the team managers to discuss the stage’s talking points. British Eurosport commentator Sean Kelly, Tour de France multiple stage winner and four-time green jersey winner, will join the show after key stages for in-depth debate with Greg LeMond.
Fans can follow Eurosport’s exciting coverage of the Tour on Eurosport Player, Eurosport’s dedicated online TV service available on PC, mobile and tablet via the Player app.
“La Course by Le Tour de France“: live on 27 July
Eurosport will also broadcast live at 12.45pm the inaugural “La Course by Le Tour de France“, an event gathering the elite of women’s cycling a few hours before the men’s peloton arrives in Paris. The women riders will race the circuit in the historic heart of the city before fighting out a final sprint at the finish line on the Champs-Elysées. The broadcast of this innovative event underlines Eurosport’s position as the home of cycling and its commitment to broadcast the best of women’s sports.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tour de France
- Chris Froome
- Alberto Contador
- Greg LeMond