King of the World

The US team assembles prior to the 1983 Professional World Championship Road Race
Calm before the storm.
(l-r) John Patterson, Greg LeMond, Eric Fetch, Gavin Chilcott, Jonathan Boyer, John Eustice | Photo ©: Assos clothing ad

September 4, 1983. Altenrhein, Switzerland. Twenty five years ago today, Greg LeMond laid waste to the cream of the world’s professional peloton en route to his first professional world championship. In a stunning display of patience, tactics, cunning, verve, and nerve seemingly beyond his 22 years, Greg LeMond finished the 270 km championship event in 7:01:21, 1:11 ahead of his nearest competitor–a margin of victory yet to be equalled or exceeded since. In fact, you’d have to go back to Vittorio Adorni in 1968 before you’d find a larger margin of victory. Including Adorni, only four world champions post-WWII have had more distance between themselves and 2nd place than LeMond.

One of LeMond’s early mentors, Eddy B., was fortunate enough to witness history in the making first hand and chronicled LeMond’s victory in this clinical, analytic manner:

As smart as [Giuseppe] Saronni was in 1982, that’s how smart Greg LeMond was in 1983. He gave us an incredible show at the World Professional Championship in Switzerland. I was so happy to be there and watch him do everything perfectly to earn that victory.

LeMond became visible at the front after the halfway point. He knew that nothing important would happen in the first 100 km–it never does in pro races because they are so long (this one was 270 km). At midrace a dozen riders moved off the front and LeMond was right there. He saw potential danger because Phil Anderson was involved, but it was too early. LeMond pulled through but didn’t work hard, and the group was caught after about 25 km.

Next, seven riders escaped and this time LeMond was not with them. The gap reached three minutes before the field began its chase. All seven riders were from different nations, so no team was interested in trying to block. LeMond was a beneficiary–it meant he did not have to exert himself to close the gap. He let the work be done by the Italians, who seemed intent on getting Saronni into position for another championship. In a way, the 1982 table had been turned.

With less than 40 km to go, six of the seven riders were caught. A Swiss remained out front, but his lead was shrinking. Now LeMond made his move. He attacked and only two riders, an Italian and a Spaniard, were able to go with him. The field had just completed the long chase and LeMond caught it off guard. It was the classic bridge. He jumped away instantly and powered right into contact. Then he kept the pressure on. He pushed hard because he was feeling good and the end was close. He believed he could succeed. He also was lucky, because he got some unintentional but valuable help from the Italian team. It went on the front of the field to block because the Italian in the group, [Moreno] Argentin, was a strong sprinter. His team figured he would beat the other three at the finish.

Again LeMond did the right thing. He kept the pace hard on the hills to take the speed out of Argentin and the others. He was glad for their help on the descents and flats, but didn’t need want them conserving any energy. He knew they would get no help from his draft on the climbs, so he willingly set a fast pace. They had to ride very hard to stay with him. The tactic worked well.

Maybe too well, I thought, when first the Swiss and then the Italian lost contact. I feared it was too early to drop Argentin because it would make the Italians stop blocking. The door would be open for a strong chase by the field. This made me very nervous. But LeMond sensed that keeping Argentin would cost him too much time. There came a point when he felt it was better to gamble his strength against the response of the field. He took the challenge.

Now it was LeMond and the Spaniard. Behind them the Italians knew the game was over and several of them abandoned. The chases began, but they failed to pose a serious threat. The field was almost a minute and a half behind–too far back if LeMond could maintain a strong pace to the finish. Again he was very smart. He knew he could drop the Spaniard, [Faustino] Ruperez, if he attacked him on the climbs, but he also knew that Ruperez was still strong enough to help him make time on the descents and flats. So LeMond waited until the final 15 km lap had started. Then he pulled away from Ruperez on a hill, using only as much energy as necessary. From there it was a time trial to the finish line. LeMond was wonderful! He did not lose a second during the lap and he arrived more than one minute ahead of the next rider. It was one of the largest winning margins in recent World Championships. LeMond left nothing to chance. In 1982 he finished second to a sprinter, in 1983 he made sure the sprinters were nowhere close.

Bicycle Road Racing. Edward Borysewicz. Velo-News Corporation, Brattleboro, VT. 1985. 144-146.

1983 Worlds Tidbits:
1. For a superb account of the race through Greg LeMond’s eyes, read John Wilcockson’s feature (Part 1, Part 2) about that special day in Switzerland. I don’t think I ever really knew how tight LeMond and Phil Anderson were, and how they prepped & tackled the race together.
2. Jonathan Boyer was the only other American finisher (30th place).
3. Gitane is particularly proud of LeMond.
4. Some ‘83 worlds footage, among other things.
5. To the victor goes the spoils. What could be sweeter than to rock the Koppenberg on a training ride ensconced in the rainbow jersey?

Greg LeMond takes on the Koppenberg
The opening spread of Greg LeMond’s first feature article in Sports Illustrated | Photo ©: Sports Illustrated. September 3, 1984. pgs. 54-55

Comments (8) to “King of the World”

  1. Thanks for all the material presented in this post!
    I made a link to this post on my blog dedicated to Greg LeMond. I hope it’s okay to do so. Let me know if not…

  2. Claire-

    No problem…Link away!

  3. Petey,

    While Eustice is still tied in with the espoir events in Pennsylvania, and Chilcott is running the BMC team operation, and LeMond has his name on a few Treks, Patterson is the only one still racing. And I think that’s cool.

  4. Yeah, Anderson and Lemond were really tight during their early years getting established on the continent. Apparently a lot of Anderson’s then-innovative contract demands (product promotion, etc.) were suggestions from Greg’s dad.

  5. …lemond was quite magnificent on the bike, in his day…of that there is no doubt…

    …i only hope that greg gives future generations the opportunity to appreciate him in that manner…

    …some of his recent machinations tend to water down those wonderful achievements, if only because of the distracting nature of his politics…

    …ultimately, i’m glad to have witnessed some of those early accomplishments…it was a time when few north americans had made much of a dent in europe & yet greg rose to not just the top, but the pinnacle of the sport…

  6. God damn, he could ride. It’s good to remember.

  7. […] back in 1983 Check-out the young Gavin Chilcott Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Gavin ← […]

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