Greg LeMond won the 1989 Tour de France in a little drama so compelling that even American sports fans took notice.
After 2,015 miles, 22 days and 20 stages of cycling's greatest spectacle, LeMond trailed Laurent Fignon of France by a virtually insurmountable 50 seconds before starting the final stage that Sunday five years ago.
In the 15.2-mile individual time trial from the Palace at Versailles to the Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris, LeMond started in second place two minutes before his rival.
By the time Fignon crossed the finish line, collapsing on the Champs Elysee a few minutes after LeMond, it was over for the French rider.
Two years removed from a near-fatal hunting accident, LeMond, then 28, rode as no one before him. He rode all out at a Tour record pace of 34 miles per hour, declining to have his splits called to him from the pace car.
In one of cycling's most unforgettable moments, LeMond had stolen the title in the closest finish in 81 Tours with an eight-second victory.
It was a memorable scene, an American winning in Paris during the height of France's bicentennial celebration. And perhaps more than any other ride--LeMond won the Tour de France three times and the world road race championship twice--it served as a metaphor of his legacy.
That ride introduced cycling to the New World as legions of Americans became enthralled with LeMond and the Tour.
So, for the American cycling scene, it was a dark day when LeMond, 33, retired last week because his physicians believe he is suffering from a rare muscle disorder known as mitochondrial myopathy.
The disease saps the energy production from muscle cells. In LeMond's case, it leaves him listless and unable to compete as an elite rider, but will not otherwise greatly affect his life.
That he was fatigued has been evident since 1991 when he was seventh in the Tour de France, the first time he failed to finish in the top three. Then he dropped out in 1992 in the Alps because of extreme fatigue, did not start last year after suffering from severe allergies during the Tour of Italy and quit after seven stages this year.
"I'm glad to have him home more," said LeMond's wife Kathy, who also has been a powerful presence in the American cycling community.
"But I think I'd rather have him home when was really ready to quit. I feel like it got cut short a little, but then we never dreamed he would have a career like he did. He had his time."
A remarkable time.
LeMond's influence on cycling will not soon be forgotten. He is one of four riders to win the Tour de France at least three times. And if not for the accidental shooting during a wild turkey hunt near Sacramento in the spring of 1987, he might have notched one or two more. That shooting left about 40 shotgun pellets lodged inside him, including three in his heart lining.
LeMond said before the accident he rarely felt bad during the cycling season, but the six years afterward were laborious.
His contributions go beyond the resume of victories: 1977 world junior road race champion; 1983 world road race champion; third in his first Tour in 1984; second in 1985, and first in 1986 to become the only non-European to win it. After winning in 1989, he earned his second world championship that summer, then, in another comeback, won his final Tour in 1990 by overcoming Italy's Claudio Chiappucci.
"He had an enormous impact on the sport," said Sam Abt of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune and author of "LeMond, the Incredible Comeback of an American Hero."
"He changed everything, salary structures, the mechanics of the sport, the triathlete bars, sunglasses, helmets, cyclometers, jerseys, everything. The guy was just like an earthquake."
Cycling was a quaint sport by American standards when LeMond, a downhill skier from Reno, left the States for Europe in the early 1980s.
When he flew over his first year as a pro, someone on the plane asked him what he did for a living.
"I said I was in sports marketing because I never wanted to explain that I was a professional cyclist," LeMond said, adding that when he did people assumed he raced motorcycles.
He arrived on the continent with the pioneer spirit, hoping to win a Tour one day. But it wasn't easy riding for a French team and not speaking the language.
He eventually won over Europeans by mastering French and their beloved Tour.
But he did it his way, a uniquely American way.
LeMond eschewed the French cycling traditions. He ate ice cream if he felt like it. He played golf on his off days and took his family with him to races.
"Greg . . . was like a Martian or Venusian," Abt said. "He came from a place where nobody took it seriously. Europeans laughed at the idea of an American doing it."
And this American continually pushed cycling out of its comfort zone. He was the first Tour rider to use special aerodynamic handlebars when he tried them during the final stage of the '89 Tour. Now, many competitors use them during time trials, all-out sprints against the clock.