On this day in 1990, American Greg LeMond, riding for Team Z, wins his third Tour de France after leading the majority of the race. It was LeMond’s second consecutive Tour de France victory.
LeMond was born on June 26, 1961, in Lakeland, California. He established himself early as a force to be reckoned with on the junior cycling circuit, and in 1979 won the World Championship Road Race junior title. LeMond turned professional in 1981 and was recruited by the great French cyclist Bernard Hinault to join cycling giant Team Renault. Just five years later in 1986, LeMond finished ahead of Hinault and shocked the world by becoming the first American and the first non-European ever to win the three-week, more than 2,200-mile Tour de France, the world’s most celebrated cycling championship.
The next year, while LeMond was again training for the Tour de France, tragedy struck. On April 20, 1987, he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law while on a hunting trip. Shotgun pellets lodged in his lungs, his small intestine, his liver, the lining of his heart and all over his back and legs. While awaiting an ambulance, his lung collapsed and he lost dangerous amounts of blood. It took two years of rehabilitation before LeMond could get back on a bike.
LeMond was still not quite in peak shape in 1989, and was suffering from an infected tendon in his leg when he entered that year’s Tour de France. Somehow, though, he was good enough: LeMond won his second Tour over Frenchman Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds, the smallest margin of victory in the race’s history. The miracle comeback–along with his win the next month at cycling’s World Championship–caused a sensation in the United States, and LeMond was named the 1989 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
LeMond returned to France for the 1990 Tour a hero embraced by both fans and the media. Swamped by media requests and endorsement deals, LeMond had spent much of the 1989-90 off-season making appearances instead of training. Though he did not dominate and did not win a single stage of the Tour, he did manage to place second in two of the race’s grueling mountain stages and consistently completed stages toward the front of the pack. This was enough to put him in the lead for most of the race. In the end, he finished 2:16 ahead of Claudio Chiapucci of Italy and 2:29 ahead of Dutch cyclist Erik Breukink for his third Tour de France victory. Only five cyclists in history have won the Tour de France more times.
Greg LeMond retired from racing in 1994. Five years later, Lance Armstrong became the second American to win the Tour de France.