By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed Historian


Top 25 All Time Tours:


1989: Last Minute Excitement on the Champs Elysees

CR Timeline 1989 [also see stage by stage “LeMond-Fignon” supplement ]

Frenchman Laurent Fignon came to the 1989 Tour de France with the best fitness of his career. He had just won the 1989 Giro d'Italia and seemed well prepared to repeat his 1983 and 1984 TdF championships. Greg LeMond (USA), TdF champion in 1986, returned to fitness after a near death hunting accident in the United States . LeMond's racing comeback was proceeding well, but questions about his endurance remained. The American was not mentioned on the media's list of pre-race favorites. Defending champion Pedro Delgado, 1987 champion Stephen Roche, American climber Andy Hampsten and Fignon were on the list of major contenders at the start in Luxembourg .

Former TdF rider and L'Equipe reporter Jean-Marie Leblanc replaced race director Jean-Francois Naquet-Radiguet following the uproar caused by the 1988 Tour drug scandal,. Leblanc's vision for the Tour was to return the traditional values of grand directors Henri Desgranges and Jacques Goddet to the Grand Boucle .

The excitement of the 1989 race started during the prologue TT in Luxembourg . Wearing the Maillot Jaune (race leader's Yellow Jersey), as the winner of the previous year's Tour, Pedro Delgado committed a large mental mistake. Delgado, the last starter, arrived at the start house 2'40” after his start time. He trailed in his defense of the Maillot Jaune before even one pedal stroke had been taken. Very talented Dutch rider Erik Breukink (Ned) took the early race lead after beating Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond by 6 seconds.

The first major test of the Tour came on stage 5, the 73 km individual time trial (ITT) from Dinard to Rennes . The rain swept course was a difficult one, rolling through the roads of Brittany . American Greg LeMond started the stage with a new aerodynamic position, featuring light alley tri-bars on the bike. With everything to gain, LeMond used both the new technological equipment and his returning fitness to set a very fast pace into a very strong headwind. He managed to catch five riders who started ahead on him and went on to win the stage, 24” ahead of Delgado and 56” ahead of Fignon. LeMond's TT effort had erased 2 years of doubt over his physical fitness. The reward for the effort was the Maillot Jaune and the race lead. Paris was still two mountain sections away, but LeMond's confidence was soaring.

The pressure of the Maillot Jaune can be wearing for the race leader and his team early in the Tour. When the climbing stages of the Pyrenees Mountains began, LeMond's small Belgian ADR team expended all its resources to cover all of the important breakaways. Stage 9 was from Pau to Cauterets and featured the tough finishing climb of Le Cambasque. A young teammate of Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain took control of the stage over the early climbs and surged away on the final climb to win the stage. LeMond and Fignon marked each other closely and rode together finished 1'58” behind Indurain. Fignon still trailed LeMond in the overall classification by 5 second, but seemed ready to make a charge past the race leader. LeMond rode well but the weight of the Maillot Jaune was taking its toll on the ADR team.

LeMond Leads Fignon up Superbagneres

The next day the Tour entered the “Circle of Death” (the hardest day in the Pyrenees ). The stage featured four major climbs, the Col du Tourmalet, Col d'Aspin, Col du Peyresourde, and a finish up to Superbagneres. Frenchman Charly Mottet attacked early on the Tourmalet and was quickly joined by Scottish climber Robert Millar. The two broke away from the peloton as LeMond steadfastly held onto Fignon's wheel. With the ADR team struggling, the Super U team took up the chase for Fignon. Delgado, trailing badly in the overall classification, used the second climb to breakaway for the chase group on the Col d'Aspin. He rode steadily up the climb and managed to bridge-up to the Mottet and Miller breakaway. The lead trio reached the bottom of the final ascent to Superbagneres with a 3-minute advantage on the elite chase group. Millar's drive to the finish line gave him the stage win, followed by Delgado and Mottet 19 second behind. Further down the mountain, Fignon and LeMond battled for the Maillot Jaune. Inside the final 2 kilometers, the Frenchman surged away and pulled slightly ahead of the American to finish 7 th on the stage. Fignon gained a valuable 12-second on LeMond and moved into the race lead. Delgado sliced his overall deficit to 3 minutes. The battle for the overall classification was getting hot.

Fignon and Super U protected the Maillot Jaune and the slim 7-second race lead over LeMond. Super U controlled the race into the foothills of the Alps . There was a week of racing before Paris and the Tour was still up for grabs. The first hard stage in the Alps was the stage 15, climbers' ITT from Gap to Orcieres-Merlette. The time trial stage featured two category 1 climbs and presented the climbers with an opportunity to gain valuable second. Dutch climber Steven Rooks won the stage handily. The win marked the first major, time trial win of his career. LeMond finished fifth 57 seconds behind Rooks, but more importantly finished 47 seconds ahead of race leader Fignon. The Maillot Jaune went back to LeMond. The American knew his chances of a victory were increasing day by day.

After a rest day in Orcieres-Merlette, the Tour scheduled the classic stage 16 from Gap to Briancon. Pascal Richard (Sui) broke away on the last climb, the Col d'Izoard and rode solo into Briancon for the stage win. Race leader Greg LeMond surprised the lead chase group and attacked over the top of the Izoard. Joined by a small group on the descent, LeMond outdistanced Fignon. In Briancon, LeMond gained another valuable 13 second on Fignon and now held a 53 second leads on the Frenchman.

The famous finishing climb to Alpe d'Huez was up next on stage 17. Over the early climbs of the stage, Colombian Aberardo Rondon paced the elite group to the bottom of Alpe d'Huez. The group's pace was aggressive halfway up the climb as a tired LeMond began to struggle. Recognizing the opportunity, Fignon's director sportif, Cyrille Guimard, ordered Fignon to attack. An equally tired Fignon balked at the order and did not go. The finish was only 4 km away and Guimard again exhorted his rider. This time Fignon jumped past LeMond and Delgado. Only the Spaniard was able to respond to Fignon's move with LeMond unable to reconnect. Slowly, the race leader lost time over the final kilometers. At the finish line, Fignon crossed 1'19” ahead of LeMond and took back the race lead by 26 seconds.

Exiting the Alps, Fignon, inspired by the Maillot Jaune, made a daring solo attack on the short 92 km stage 18 from Bourg d'Oisans to Villard de Lans. The attack caught LeMond, riding with a depleted ADR team, by surprise. The Frenchman rode the final 22 km alone and won the stage by 24 seconds. LeMond's deficit jumped to 50 seconds and his chance for overall victory had taken a major blow. In Villard de Lans, a dejected LeMond feared the Tour was lost today.

From the dejection in Villard de Lans, LeMond get a boost in Aix les Bains but Fignon stay close.

The French media praised the arrogant Fignon and wrote of his “racing panache.” They wrote of LeMond's gallant effort and exciting racing style. In the minds of the French, the race was over, no one thought an American could gain 50 seconds on a short, flat 24 km ITT. Prior to the final stage, Fignon approached LeMond and congratulated him for a great race. An ongoing war of words continued and spurred on the great rivalry between the arrogant Frenchman and the rejuvenated American. The media and fans relished ever word. Only a confident LeMond believed an extraordinary effort could gain the 50 seconds necessary for victory.

LeMond attacked the final stage. He refused to hear time split along the course, preferring to concentrate on the effort at hand. Fignon started last as the overall leader, 2 minutes after the American and asked to specifically to hear LeMond's time splits. At the 5 km mark, Guimard told the race leader that LeMond had gained 10 seconds. In disbelief Fignon increased his tempo. At the 10 km mark, LeMond had a 19 second gain. Fignon's disbelief was turning into mild panic as the kilometers clicked down.

In Paris , the festive atmosphere was gaining a fevered pitch with every time check. The huge crowd along the course began to believe they were witnessing something special. LeMond had no idea of the furor being created by his effort until he over heard an announcer on the loud speaker say he had gained 40 seconds. He knew there was a chance for the victory.

LeMond crossed the finish line in 26'57”. He could only anxiously watch and wait for Fignon to finish. The French crowd cheered wildly as the Maillot Jaune rode down the Champs Elysees and streaked toward the finish line. He had to beat the time of 27'47” to maintain the race lead. Into sight of the finish, Fignon strained with the effort and pushed to his maximum. The clock ticked... 27'47” then... 27'48”. Greg LeMond had accomplished the impossible.

Fignon finished in 27'55”, 58 seconds slower than LeMond over the final 24 km, and only 8 seconds slower over the 3,285 km, 24 day stage race. The margin of victory was the closest in Tour history.

For Greg LeMond, the victory was sweet. After his life threatening hunting accident, LeMond's return to full form generated great emotion. The Tour de France had just witnessed the greatest race in its legendary history.

TdF 1989 Recap

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Prologue LUXEMBOURG , 7.8 km ITT

Eric Breukink (Ned)

Erik Breukink (Ned)


Acacio Da Silva (Por)

Acacio Da Silva (Por)

Stage 3 LUXEMBOURG-SPA/Francorchamps (Bel), 241 km

Raul Alcala (Mex)

Acacio Da Silva (Por)

Stage 4 LIEGE (Bel)-WASQUEHAL, 255 km

Jelle Nijdam (Ned)

Acacio Da Silva (Por)

Stage 5 DINARD-RENNES, 73 km ITT

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Greg LeMond ( USA )


Joel Pelier (Fra)

Greg LeMond ( USA )


Etienne De Wilde (Bel)

Greg LeMond ( USA )


Martin Earley (Ire)

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Stage 9 PAU-CAUTERETS/Cambasque, 147 km

Miguel Indurain (Esp)

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Stage 10 CAUTERETS-LUCHON/Superbagneres, 136 km

Robert Millar (Gbr)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)

Stage 11 LUCHON-BLAGNAC, 158 km

Mathieu Hermans (Ned)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Valerio Tebaldi (Ita)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Vincent Barteau (Fra)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)

Stage 14 MARSEILLE-GAP, 240 km

Jelle Nijdam (Ned)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Steven Rooks (Ned)

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Stage 16 GAP-BRIANCON, 175 km

Pascal Richard (Sui)

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Stage 17 BRIANCON-ALPE D'HUEZ, 165 km

Gert-Jan Theunisse (Ned)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Laurent Fignon (Fra)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Greg LeMond ( USA )

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Giovanni Fidanza (Ita)

Laurent Fignon (Fra)


Greg LeMond ( USA )

Greg LeMond ( USA )

Start List: 198

Finishers: 138

Distance: 3,279 km

Average Speed: 37.818 km/h


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