Re-Cycle: When team-mates become rivals – The last time the World Championships came to England
With the world of cycling having descended upon rainy Yorkshire, we take a look back at the last time the World Championships came to England. The 1982 World title may have gone to the red-hot Italian favourite, but it was the actions of Greg LeMond, who controversially chased down fellow American Jonathan Boyer, which made the headlines.
How things have changed since 1982 – the year of the world's first computer virus, the invention of ciabatta bread, Ben Kingsley's Oscar for Ghandi and ABBA's last public performance; the Queen celebrated her pearl Jubilee, Adrian Mole wrote his first diary (aged 13¾), the Falklands War raged for 10 weeks, prime minister Maggie Thatcher presided over record unemployment and, well, like today, we all needed some escapism and cheering up (hence E.T. being the highest grossing film).
Yes, it was a different world 37 years ago. Michael Jackson's Thriller hit the shelves, its sales boosted by the invention of something about which many younger readers won't have the foggiest: the compact disc (those flat silvery donut things which hang from trees in allotments).
And when Italy's Beppe Saronni surged to the rainbow stripes at glorious Goodwood on 5 September in the 1982 World Championships, Survivor's Eye of the Tiger – the theme to the film Rocky III – was top of the UK charts having dethroned Come on Eileen the day before.
In the dog-eat-dog pro peloton, it was not so much survival but world domination that drove the American rookie Greg LeMond in the closing moments of the men's road race. With his U.S. team-mate 'Jock' Boyer up the road after an attack on the final climb, 21-year-old LeMond led the chase behind – much to the amazement of commentators and fans alike.
"Well, 65,000 people here are being treated to a most extraordinary finish to the world cycling championships in Goodwood," said Phil Liggett, commentating for British TV.
" Boyer changes gear, he glances over his shoulder. He knows he can still do it. And Greg LeMond of the United States comes as well. Now, really, LeMond should not be doing this, because he's bringing all the other riders towards his team-mate. And one of those riders is Sean Kelly…"
The gap was being closed down in slow motion, with Boyer coming around the final corner with just a matter of metres before the final rise to the line. "Boyer now heading up the finish," Liggett continued…
" It's agonising, this, and right past him goes Saronni… Giuseppe Saronni is going to take the world title. This is a tremendous finish for Italy and look at the speed of him now. Saronni washes by Boyer as he comes up to the line. The Italians are going mad here on the line. And Giuseppe Saronni has won the world title. He throws kisses to the crowd. And in second place there goes Jonathan Boyer, and I think Sean Kelly was third with the bronze medal."
Liggett was wrong: the man who came second was not Boyer – who, once reeled in by Saronni, faded to tenth – but the man who led the chase, his compatriot LeMond, who held off Ireland's Kelly for the biggest performance of his career to date.
Controversy aside, the Californian's silver medal at Goodwood was the first for an American in a world professional championship; it was a landmark result which ultimately proved the harbinger of one of cycling's most feted careers – a sliding doors moment that saw one American squeeze out another, leaving a sour taste in the mouth and irrevocably ruining a relationship.
Not that LeMond ever regretted his actions – and quite rightly. Here's why…
Setting the scene: team-mates become rivals
Jonathan Boyer – better known as Jacques or Jock – became the first American to participate in the Tour de France in 1981. That year, 26-year-old Boyer was a team-mate of fellow Californian LeMond at the French Renault-Elf team. Barely through his second decade, LeMond was being groomed as Bernard Hinault's long-term successor at Renault.
Boyer had won the amateur Coors Classic in 1980 before coming 32nd in his debut Tour a year later. In the World Championships in Prague in 1981, Boyer finished a solid fifth place to underline his potential, with the Belgian Freddie Maertens outsprinting Italy's Giuseppe Saronni and Frenchman Hinault for the gold medal. At the end of the year, Boyer left Renault to join another American, John Eustice, at the SEM-France Loire team led by the Irish star Sean Kelly.
Intensely religious and steadfastly vegetarian, Boyer took a Bible with him to races, where he refused to eat meat and was always seen with a ready supply of nuts and fruit. His oddball tendencies saw him dubbed "un marginal" – a recluse, outsider or hippie – by Renault manager Cyrille Guimard.
LeMond, meanwhile, showed solid form in 1982 by finishing in the top three at the Tours of the Mediterranean and Corsica, and Tirreno-Adriatico. His spring was somewhat derailed, though, after a freak accident in Liège-Bastogne-Liège: posing for a photographer on a passing motorcycle, LeMond skidded and ploughed into another rider, breaking his right collarbone.
Irishman Sean Kelly, meanwhile, had won the first of his seven Paris-Nice titles in March before picking up a stage of the Tour and the green jersey. With 10 wins to his name that season, Kelly was one of the hot tips for Goodwood – even though he only had one Irish team-mate in Stephen Roche.
But Saronni – winner of the Tour de Suisse, Tirreno-Adriatico and Giro del Trentino, as well as three stages on the Giro – was the big favourite.
Giuseppe Saronni during the 1982 Tour de SuisseGetty Images
In the 1982 World Championships the USA were a team in name only. With the sport still growing across the Atlantic, the US Cycling Federation used the Worlds as a way of deciding the national champion – a system that did not exactly encourage teamwork.
"It was a crazy way of doing it – having the American championships and the world championships in the same race," Kelly tells Eurosport. "It didn't help the riders to ride for each other. They all wanted to be American champion, so the federation were creating the problem to an extent."
Besides the small matter of competitive pride, there was the bigger picture to look at – and in this regard, LeMond was mature beyond his years. As the author Ed Pickering says in his book, The Yellow Jersey Club:
" The worst possible thing for LeMond's burgeoning career as a major star would be for another American to win the world championships. LeMond was clear in his self-perception, right from the start – he was an athlete, but he was a businessman too. Furthermore, and this may have given LeMond's final acceleration just a bit of extra zip, LeMond and Boyer didn't really like each other."
Their beef dated back to their time as team-mates at Renault when Boyer, fluent in French, would often translate LeMond in interviews with the French press. The young buck felt that Boyer was deliberately putting words into his mouth and giving the impression that he was jealous of his elder.
In September 1982, the USPRO named a nine-man team for the Worlds but only six showed up at Goodwood – probably because they had to pay their own way. Boyer had SEM team-mate Eustice on his side, while LeMond was close to the Italian-based George Mount and the two US-based riders, David Mayer-Oakes and Eric Heiden (the Olympic speed skating gold medallist).
As LeMond later said:
" I was wearing the U.S. jersey, sure, but there really wasn't a U.S. team and I definitely wasn't part of it. I paid for my own trip to England, everything. There was no support from the U.S. Federation. The team I was racing for was Renault."
And with trade team-mate Hinault pulling out long before the finale, LeMond was very much riding for himself and his future in the sport.
The race: September 5, 1982
Some 136 riders started the 275km men's road race that year, with just 55 classified finishers after 18 laps of a circuit just over 15km long.
The start-finish of the circuit was atop the South Downs in West Sussex, with the route passing along a ridge, negotiating a winding descent between beech trees, then taking in a loop on the famous Goodwood racecourse. There followed the only climb – the 2km ascent of Kennel Hill, which peaked at 10% before the flamme rouge and a gradual ascent on the finish straight to the line.
Notable early attacks in the race came from the Frenchman Bernard Vallet, Swede Tommy Prim and Swiss rider Serge Demierre, but each was brought back – largely thanks to the work of the powerful Italian team.
Saronni's squadra were undeniably the strongest, with the likes of Moreno Argentin, Francesco Moser and Pierino Gavazzi all pulling for the man who finished runner-up one year earlier.
With a lap remaining, the Spaniard Marino Lejaretta was out ahead with a small gap – prompting a counter from Dutchman Hennie Kuiper, who was closed down by Ireland's Kelly. The Italians helped bring it back together before Kelly got into another move just off the front. It was Kuiper's men in orange who then muscled in ahead of the climb, before Lejaretta summoned the strength to zip clear again as the road ramped up.
Boyer then made his move, reeling in the Spaniard and riding clear on the steepest section of the climb. But as his legs started to fade, he looked over his shoulder and could see his 'team-mate' LeMond leading the chase. Saronni latched on to the young American's back wheel before propelling himself past Boyer and on to glory.
"He was like a bullet and it was a sprint to the line for second place," says Kelly, who admitted he harmed his own chances by "probably [doing] too much chasing down the bigger teams on the final laps".
" I should have perhaps sat back and waited. But I was concerned a breakaway might have got away, so I was trying to get myself into a breakaway in the last couple of laps. I paid a bit for that effort in the end."
What was LeMond thinking?
With Boyer clear, normal team tactics would have seen LeMond force one of the other favourites – say Saronni or Kelly – to make the effort to close the gap. If they did, LeMond could have sat on and been fresher in the final sprint; if they didn't, Boyer – and the Americans – would win.
But this was no normal race, and the Americans no normal team, as already outlined, and as stressed by Pickering in The Yellow Jersey Club:
" Instead, it was LeMond who closed the gap. It was suicidal, because his move was more of a steady acceleration than a jump, so it wasn't strong enough to shred the riders on his wheel, Saronni and Kelly. It guaranteed two things: first, that LeMond wasn't going to win. But he wasn't concerned about that. LeMond rode for the second reason – to stop Boyer from winning."
As well he might – given what was at stake for the American duo, who were riding a race for the Stars and Stripes within a race for the rainbow jersey.
Quizzed about his tactics on the finish line, the runner-up, who later claimed Boyer had sandbagged him all day, did not mince his words.
" We aren't on the same team and we are not friends. I would not like to see him world champion."
Chased or not by LeMond, Boyer would probably have got caught by the line. But, according to Pickering, "LeMond's desire to make sure of it overrode any need for him to be seen to do the right thing".
Re-watching the footage, it looks quite obvious that Boyer's lead was not big enough, nor did he have the kind of kick to hold off the irrepressible Saronni. John Wilcockson, the veteran British cycling journalist, described Boyer's chances "as remote as the South Pole".
That said, Kelly, who was in the race and battled for third place, still believes that there was a "small possibility" that he could have held on – especially if LeMond had held off and the chase had been delayed. "It's something we'll never know now."
Kelly admits, though, that LeMond probably had little choice but to "ride his own race".
" Tactically wise for Greg, attacking at that moment was probably the only way he was going to win – just grind it out from a long way out and make it more difficult for the faster guys."
LeMond later elaborated on his motivation:
" We were in the last 500 metres and Boyer only had about a 20-metre lead, which there was no way he could keep. I didn't think he could win, and I didn't want him to. He's just not a friend. He's never won a professional race and I didn't think he was the kind of guy who should be World Champion."
Besides, LeMond added, the only thing he could have done to help Boyer would have been to "throw on my brakes, crash in front of the pack, and hopefully hold off Saronni" – a dirty tactic that was never an option.
George Mount was scathing of the criticism levelled against his team-mate and friend.
" What's LeMond going to do? Throw his bike down in front of everybody because Boyer is such a good buddy of everyone? Hell no. LeMond made a good move and a good sprint... Boyer was not going to win that race. The best he could have got was fifth or sixth."
Speaking to Cyclingnews in 2004, Boyer himself admitted that his relationship with his compatriot never recovered after that day.
" I came pretty close [at Goodwood] but didn't win it. That was another significant race in my career. Well, Greg LeMond did chase me down. He really did not want me to win the race. He said I didn't deserve it, didn't do anything, he was better than me. At that point, Greg and I did not see eye to eye. It definitely affected it [our relationship], certainly."
Regardless of the rivalry between two team-mates, it could be argued that the Americans were a mere footnote to proceedings. Crossing the line for third place, Kelly could be seen shaking his head – but not in anger or opposition to LeMond's tactics.
" The shake of the head was because Saronni was just so strong. He was untouchable. I don't think I could have done anything more. To win it, I don't think there was anyone there in the final who could have matched Saronni. He was much stronger than everybody else with that kick to the line."
What happened next: LeMond's world domination
Two weeks later, LeMond underlined his promise by winning the 10-day Tour de l'Avenir by 10'18" – at the time, the second largest margin in the race's history. Despite that win, LeMond's Renault team-mate Hinault said they he still felt the 22-year-old was not "hard enough" to make his Tour de France debut.
"What he meant," Lemond explained, "was I'm not hard enough yet to attack the Tour to win. You've got to be mature, physically strong to win. I think I could get 15th, maybe even be in the top 10 next year. But that's not what I want. What I want is to win the Tour de France."
LeMond would do just that in 1986, finishing ahead of his team-mate Hinault in one of the most memorable editions of the race. It came after he finished third (behind Laurent Fignon and Hinault) in his debut Tour in 1984, then runner-up behind Hinault a year later after supporting the Frenchman to his record-equalling fifth maillot jaune.
Pedro Delgado, Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond during the 1989 Tour de FranceGetty Images
A year after coming second at Goodwood, LeMond lived up to his name by becoming world champion at Altenrhein, after soloing to glory in Switzerland by 1'11" ahead of Adri van der Poel and Stephen Roche. In doing so, he firmly drew a line under the episode at Goodwood 12 months earlier.
In 1989, capping an extraordinary season in which he came back from injury to win the Tour by eight seconds over Fignon, LeMond took a second world title at Chambery ahead of Dimitri Konyshev and Kelly. It was the second time the Irish star would miss out on a rainbow jersey that would always elude him. As Kelly tells Eurosport:
" That was the day I thought I was going to win the Worlds. I was pretty sure I could beat LeMond, Fignon, [Steven] Rooks and the rest in the sprint – I was the faster one. But LeMond was unbelievable and just incredibly strong that day."
Boyer would have to wait another four years before his first – and only – professional win, in stage 6 of the 1986 Tour de Suisse. He would ride five Tours and two Giri in his career, but never hit the heights of his countryman.
A month after being crowned world champion, Saronni won the Giro di Lombardia in the rainbow jersey. After three consecutive second places in Sanremo, the rainbow stripes inspired Saronni to victory in La Classicissima in 1983, before he took a second Giro crown in May; there was no proverbial rainbow curse for the Italian, then, that's for sure.
In retirement, Saronni became manager of the Lampre team, and is currently the general manager at UAE Team Emirates.
Americans Jonathan Boyer and Greg LeMond during the 1986 Coors ClassicEurosport
All eyes on Yorkshire
Since Britain last hosted the UCI Road World Championships, Italy has had the honour six times, Spain five, Switzerland and Austria three, France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Holland and the USA twice, with single outings in Portugal, Japan, Colombia, Canada, Australia, Denmark and (sigh) Doha.
Months before the last outing in Goodwood, the Eurovision Song Contest circus gathered in the Yorkshire town of Harrogate to witness victory for the 17-year-old high-school student Nicole – the Remco Evenepoel of her discipline – and her catchy song A Little Peace.
Thirty-seven years on and a Tour de France grand depart later, Harrogate is back on the cycling map – this time in the county's latest steps in becoming the biggest global cycling destination in Great Britain.
After a week heavily affected by torrential rain, all eyes will be on Yorkshire for the men's road race on Sunday. But whatever happens, it would be a huge surprise if we witness anything quite as controversial as what happened in Jacques Boyer's wake at Goodwood in 1982.