Greg LeMond’s attack dog is staring me down. I’ve made it as far as the living room of the family’s brick manor outside Minneapolis, but now this purebred German shepherd has stopped me in my tracks.
“His name’s Yester, as in ‘yesterday,'” the three-time Tour de France winner tells me, rubbing the neck of the dog he’s owned for all of six months. “Aww, he’s okay.”
“He likes you,” LeMond’s wife Kathy chimes in.
I’m not so sure. Yester hasn’t released me from his gaze, and his snout is aimed at the meaty part of my thigh. I try to remember what the ‘Dog Whisperer’ advises in such situations. Should I stare back into those expressionless eyes or avoid eye contact altogether?
But even the ‘Dog Whisperer’ rarely deals with creatures such as Yester, who is no house pet but a Level III Schutzhund, a highly trained German-bred police dog, used for security purposes only and costing upward of $20,000. “All I have to do is say ‘throat!'” LeMond whispers, “and he’d kill you.” Lucky it is then that Yester only understands commands in German.
It might seem odd to keep a lethal guard dog in the tranquil exurb of Medina, where the locals rarely get up to anything worse than foxhunting. But if you had the kind of enemies that LeMond has acquired over the last few years, you might consider getting some protection too. He has sued everyone from Tim Blixseth, the billionaire who developed the Yellowstone Club, to various sponsors and business partners. He has tape-recorded phone calls with business associates and friends, and, most famously, he’s tangled with Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis, the only other Americans to have won the Tour de France. LeMond was among the first to suggest that media darling Armstrong might have used performance-enhancing drugs, and he testified at Landis’s doping hearing last May, after a Landis associate threatened to publicly reveal that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child.
By refusing to keep quiet LeMond has created a massive rift in the sport he left nearly 15 years ago. The Lance/Landis camp derides him as a “whiner” who’s jealous of all other American Tour winners and who may have even used blood boosters himself, while the pro-LeMond camp worships him as the greatest champion of all. “I’ve received death threats,” he says. “I’ve had people say I should have my teeth kicked out. I’m a lightning rod for everybody.”
This spring LeMond launched a new offensive in his long-running war with Armstrong by serving a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Trek, which has licensed the LeMond Racing Cycles brand since 1995 and which also sponsored Armstrong beginning in 1998. The partnership generated more than $100 million for Trek and $5 million for LeMond over the years. Ostensibly a business dispute, the complaint is filled with explosive allegations against Trek and Armstrong – among other things, that Trek stopped promoting LeMond’s products after he spoke out against doping and Armstrong. It goes so far as to say that Armstrong was trying to sabotage LeMond’s business. “Lance basically destroyed my bike company,” LeMond says.
“I’m a busy man,” Armstrong told me, when I later asked him about this. “Greg LeMond is never on my to-do list.”
Trek fired back with a massive, very public countersuit against LeMond, claiming that LeMond’s “inconsistent behavior” damaged the Trek brand and harmed his own company as well. The case may open up a Pandora’s box of cycling’s darkest secrets. Sample allegation: that Armstrong’s team paid a $500,000 bribe to persuade cycling officials to accept a backdated prescription after Armstrong tested positive for corticosteroids during the 1999 Tour. “I don’t care if he is a hero,” LeMond says. “I am going to bring that to the forefront.”
Armstrong dismisses LeMond, saying, “I feel really sorry for the guy,” but taking the high road seems unlikely to keep LeMond at bay. In his home, LeMond tells me ominously, “I was always too nice. I’m holding people accountable from now on.”
It seems wise for me to make friends with Yester, so I let him give my hand a good sniff before I reach down to rub his neck. He assents, relaxing slightly, but I still feel a vibration rising from deep within his chest, the low beginning of a growl.
His tires sizzling on the hot pavement, Greg LeMond sprints past in a blur, blond hair blowing back in the wind, still looking like the powerful athlete who stunned the world by winning Europe’s greatest bicycle race more than two decades ago.
Only it isn’t Greg LeMond; it’s his son Geoffrey, who at 23 is a dead ringer for his old man in his glory days. “That’s how he trains,” the real Greg LeMond says proudly, riding beside me. “Balls to the wall.”
The famous mane is now silver, and there are 50 more pounds of him than back in the day, but at 46 the elder LeMond still resembles his younger self. His eyes are the same dazzling blue, though now they seem sadder and heavier, more like those of an old hound dog than the eager puppy he was when he won the Tour the first time.
We’d spent the morning watching coverage of the 2007 Tour de France. LeMond’s mind seems troubled by the race he won in 1986, 1989, and 1990. He’s horrified by the extent to which performance-enhancing drugs have distorted the contest. Just the day before, a key contender had been tossed out of the race for an illegal blood transfusion – basically, for having someone else’s blood in his body.
“I can’t come to grips with how corrupt it has become,” LeMond told me earlier. “I want to be a fan, but I know too much.”
For years he barely even rode his bike, until he started riding with Geoffrey two years ago. LeMond thought it might help his son beat back the depression and substance abuse problems that had haunted him since his teens. Geoffrey has considered trying to turn pro, but LeMond opposes it because he doesn’t want his son to be tempted to use performance drugs.
It’s not clear he’d need to, if he has inherited the tiniest strand of his father’s DNA. From the moment Greg began showing up at bike races around his native Reno, Nevada, as a teenager, he won just about everything. In a tough race up Mount Tamalpais, outside San Francisco, 15-year-old Greg placed second only to the great George Mount, who’d finished sixth a few months earlier in the 1976 Olympics.
LeMond was gifted with an ungodly VO2 max of 93; sometimes he puts it at 94 or even 95, but at any rate his would have been among the highest VO2 maxes ever recorded. (The VO2 max measures an athlete’s aerobic activity; a typical fit man’s score is 60.) By age 19, LeMond had a pro contract to race in Europe, so he and his new wife Kathy moved to France, and later Belgium. He won the world championships in 1983, and in 1984 he finished third in the Tour de France. “When you’re good,” he tells me, “you’re good from the beginning.”
He rode under the wing of his superstar teammate Bernard Hinault, who had basically adopted the LeMonds, kicking them some extra prize money to supplement Greg’s $12,000-a-year salary. Once he even changed a tire on LeMond’s Renault. The great Hinault, changing a tire for l’Americain! In 1985 he finished second to Hinault in the Tour, and finally, in ’86, this blond kid with the gleaming Colgate smile led the entire Tour de France peloton onto the Champs-Elysées, a conquering hero who was nevertheless adored by everybody in France.
It should’ve been so perfect after that; his life an athlete’s fairy tale. Yet even then there were hints of trouble to come, rumblings of conflicts and conspiracies. It started with Hinault, who had attacked LeMond relentlessly during the race, despite promising to help him win. “He was a fatherlike figure who let me down,” LeMond says. “It just crushed me.”
Then the legal wrangles started, a torrent of lawsuits that has continued pretty much unabated since. LeMond sued anyone who tried to use his image for profit. A series of tough negotiations between LeMond and several team sponsors yielded the highest salary ever paid to a professional cyclist – $5.5 million over three years – but also bred acrimony. “He was a businessman on the bike – the very first,” says his former trainer, the renowned Dutch physiologist Adrie van Diemen.
In the spring of 1987, LeMond’s life took another dramatic turn when he returned from Europe to recover from a hand injury. While hunting on opening day of turkey season, he accidentally stood in the path of a blast from his sister’s husband’s 12-gauge. He lost three-quarters of his blood and endured a collapsed lung. That he went on to win the 1989 Tour de France, two years later, with 35 pellets still embedded in his body – three of them next to his heart – might qualify as a Vatican-worthy act of God. Yet there he was, hurtling down the Champs-Elysées on the final day, winning the race by a razor-thin margin of eight seconds.
The next morning Americans who barely knew what a derailleur was awoke to read about Greg LeMond’s amazing comeback. ‘Sports Illustrated’ named him Sportsman of the Year, a first for a cyclist, and the next six months disappeared in a blur of awards banquets and celebrations. “I was overwhelmed,” he recalls. In 1990 he won a third Tour, staking his place among the greatest athletes ever.
He didn’t know yet that this was the peak, as good as it was ever going to get. The following year he struggled to finish seventh, and each year after that the pace of the pack got faster, especially on the climbs. In one mountain stage of the 1992 Tour, LeMond finished nearly 50 minutes behind the winner. He used to win in the mountains. He quit the race the next day. “It was a very confusing period,” LeMond says. “But it makes sense today.”
At the time, he blamed himself; the winner that day in 1992 was the scrupulously drug-free Andy Hampsten. LeMond trained harder than he ever had in his life and changed his diet, but nothing worked. “My dad tortured himself,” says Geoffrey. Finally he went to see a Belgian doctor named Yvan Van Mol. “‘There’s nothing wrong with you, Greg,'” LeMond says the doctor told him. “‘If you’re going to compete today, you’ve got to go see Ferrari.'”
Dr. Michele Ferrari was an Italian sports doctor who had become notorious for his glib comments about performance drugs, comparing EPO to orange juice, and declaring that it didn’t bother him if his athletes went to Switzerland to buy blood-boosters. Many top riders had already started seeing Ferrari, and their performances had improved markedly. But LeMond refused: Greg LeMond didn’t need anything the Italian doctor could provide. He had the highest VO2 max, and he could still beat everyone.
Except he couldn’t. In 1994 he struggled to keep up on the flat stages. “We were always in the red – dans la rouge,” he says. When the pack dropped him yet again during the sixth stage, he got off his bike and climbed into the “broom wagon,” which cruises along behind the race to sweep up exhausted riders, the most humiliating way possible to exit a race.
In December 1994, LeMond announced his retirement, citing mitochondrial myopathy, a rare condition in which the body’s cellular energy system basically breaks down. By then America was getting to know its newest young cycling superstar: a cocky 23-year-old Texan named Lance Armstrong.
After winning the world championships in 1993, Armstrong skyrocketed from newcomer to hero. When he came back from cancer to win the ’99 Tour he was deemed the second coming of LeMond, and he too was named SI’s Sportsman of the Year. At the start of the 2001 Tour, however, the London Sunday Times published an article by David Walsh detailing Armstrong’s history with none other than Dr. Michele Ferrari, who by that time was under criminal investigation in Italy. It questioned Armstrong’s return from testicular cancer, a malignancy that spread to his brain and lungs and nearly took his life in 1996, to win the Tour two times (going on three that summer). In a follow-up story, LeMond dropped this bomb: “If Lance is clean, then it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”
The uproar began immediately. Armstrong called LeMond a few days after the 2001 Tour ended. “You’re telling me you’ve never done EPO?” LeMond alleges Armstrong said, referring to the blood-boosting drug erythropoietin. “Your comeback in ’89 was so spectacular. Mine was a miracle, yours was a miracle. You couldn’t have been as strong as you were in ’89 without EPO.”
“Listen, Lance, before EPO was ever in cycling I won the Tour de France…because I had a VO2 max of 95. Yours was 82. Tell me one person who said I did EPO.”
“Everyone knows it.”
“Are you threatening me?” LeMond says he asked.
“If you want to throw stones, I will throw stones,” Armstrong allegedly replied. Later in the conversation, LeMond says, Armstrong promised to “find at least 10 people who will say you did EPO.”
“It’s my word versus his,” said Armstrong, reached by phone in St. Bart’s earlier this year. “But I’m telling you, his description of that call is 100 percent inaccurate. He was accosting me, screaming and yelling. He was not acting normal that day.” (In a deposition, Armstrong described LeMond as “like a drunk.”)
However that phone call went down, LeMond’s troubles were only beginning. Speaking out against Armstrong carried serious consequences in the close-knit cycling world. “There was this Lance mania going on, and people were angry about what LeMond said,” says LeMond’s former teammate Andy Hampsten. “He had nothing to gain and quite a lot to lose by sticking his neck out.”
LeMond spent the first two weeks of August 2001 fielding calls from cycling bigwigs, including Thom Weisel, chairman of USA Cycling and the owner of Armstrong’s team. He also heard from Trek CEO John Burke, who pleaded with LeMond to stand down and, according to LeMond’s 2008 lawsuit against Trek, “implied in graphic terms that Mr. Armstrong would financially harm Mr. LeMond.” Spooked, LeMond began taping the calls. But he was trapped; Burke demanded he issue a retraction, drafted by Armstrong’s attorney.
Two weeks later a “clarification” from LeMond appeared in ‘USA Today’. “I do not believe, in any way, that [Armstrong] has ever used any performance-enhancing substances,” LeMond was quoted as saying. “I believe his performances are the result of the same hard work, dedication, and focus that were mine 10 years before.”
He says differently now. “I only regret that a retraction was forced out of me. I wouldn’t change anything, not a word.” In fact, he ups the ante. “Lance is the epitome of the opposite of what a champion is. He gets away with it because he’s a cancer survivor.”After an hour of riding in almost unbearable heat, LeMond and I stop for a mercy Coffee Cooler at Caribou Coffee. When I emerge with my drink he is deep in conversation with two new-agey male acquaintances about Christianity and shame. Before long LeMond casually brings up the sexual abuse he’d suffered as a child.
“It was so painful that I couldn’t tell anybody, and I was quite self-destructive,” LeMond told the two. “I would have preferred to kill myself before I told my wife.”
Starting about six years ago, at the same time that his public comments about Armstrong were keeping him in the headlines, LeMond’s personal life was beginning to unravel, triggered by his son Geoffrey’s deepening depression. The oldest of LeMond’s three children, Geoffrey had been traumatized as a toddler when his father was shot, and it didn’t help that LeMond traveled constantly. “His dad was gone 200 days a year,” Kathy tells me. “He would just sob.”
“I’m so glad I’m not a professional cyclist anymore, because it’s incredibly selfish,” LeMond says when we’re back at the house. “You’ve got everyone around you supporting you and propping your ego up.”
The only thing worse is when all that ends and the bottom drops out. As he watched his son going in and out of treatment facilities, LeMond could feel his own secret rising to the surface. It culminated on his son’s 18th birthday, in 2002, when Geoffrey showed up late to a celebratory dinner and a family confrontation ensued. “That was only the beginning,” Geoffrey says now. “I hated them for a long time.”
“I wished I could tell him I didn’t have this magical childhood,” LeMond tells me. “If he knew the suffering I had done internally, he would think differently. But I couldn’t tell him.”
One night, with the help of a bottle of scotch, LeMond tried to tell Kathy about his abuse, but it was no use. “I’ll tell you on my deathbed,” he mumbled as he passed out. Six weeks later he took off to Arizona with another woman. “Our whole family was on [the antidepressant] Celexa,” LeMond tells me, breaking into sobs. “I couldn’t console my son. Instead of giving him the care he needed, I tried to run.” He came back and finally told Kathy what had been done to him, three decades before; the thing that haunted him, that kept him running.
It happened to LeMond, as it so often does, at the hands of someone he knew well. In his case it was a man named Ron, a trusted family friend. When LeMond was about eight years old, Ron started taking him skiing and camping in the mountains. “He was kind of like a Boy Scout counselor,” LeMond says of Ron, who was considerably older than him. “If you think about pedophiles, they’re all that type.”
When Greg got a little older, Ron started showing him pornographic magazines and talking about sexual things. The young boy got aroused, and Ron took advantage of him. “He waited until I was just at the right stage of development,” LeMond says now. He can’t remember whether the abuse continued for three months or a year and three months; he just tried to shut it out.
For decades the secret ate at him. Even as he stood on the Tour de France podium in 1986, shaking hands with Paris mayor Jacques Chirac, he says, he wondered if Ron was out there somewhere, ready to tell the world and embarrass him.
A year ago, everyone with a television found out that Greg LeMond had been sexually abused, thanks to a bizarre incident at the Floyd Landis arbitration hearing. Landis, the 2006 Tour de France winner, had tested positive for testosterone during the Tour and stood to be stripped of his victory if found guilty. LeMond had been called to testify for USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, about a call Landis had made to him a few days after the offending urine sample. Earlier, LeMond had told a French newspaper, “If he is confirmed positive, I hope he has the courage to tell the truth. I hope that he won’t do what another American did: deny, deny, deny.”
Landis was either perturbed about LeMond’s comments (says Landis) or seeking the older rider’s advice (says LeMond). According to LeMond, he urged Landis – if he had used drugs – to own up to it. Better to confront the truth than have it eat at you from inside. “It’s the defense mechanism of the lie that poisons you,” he told Landis. To illustrate the point, LeMond told him about the secret he’d kept for many years.
“What good would it do?” Landis replied, according to LeMond. “Everybody would hate me. I would destroy all my friends.”
What good would it do? That struck LeMond as a tacit admission. And the conversation didn’t stay private for very long. When a Canadian reporter called Landis, wondering if he’d “admitted” drug use to LeMond, Landis hit the roof. On a cycling website he posted a message saying, in part, “Unfortunately, the facts that he divulged to me in the hour which he spoke…would damage his character severely and I would rather not do what has been done to me. However, if he ever opens his mouth again and the word Floyd comes out, I will tell you all some things that you will wish you didn’t know….”
In fact LeMond hadn’t told the reporter about the call; a friend of his wife’s had. But when USADA asked him to testify at Landis’s hearing, LeMond agreed, he says, only after Landis rejected an alleged offer from USADA to fink on his former teammate, Armstrong, in exchange for a lesser sanction. (It was a rough month; LeMond’s mother was in a coma, dying of liver disease, and he hadn’t spoken to his parents in four years, since he’d revealed his abuse to them. “I had a lot of questions I wanted answered, and it went to a shame-based reaction,” he says. “I never got to talk to my mom again.”)
The night before the Landis hearing, LeMond’s phone rang. A strange voice was on the other line, claiming to be his “uncle” – his abuser. “I’m gonna be there tomorrow,” the man said, “and we can talk about how we used to hide your weenie.”
During his testimony the next day, LeMond held up his phone, revealing the incoming call log. Several present immediately recognized that the call had come from a phone belonging to Will Geoghegan, Landis’s friend and business manager. Landis’s lawyer Maurice Suh wheeled around and faced Geoghegan. “You’re fired!” he spat.
Landis was convicted and stripped of his Tour title, and although the arbitration panel stated that LeMond’s testimony had nothing to do with its decision, the incident sealed Landis’s fate in the court of public opinion. Sports columnists and commentators who once summoned sympathy for Landis now wrote him off as an unworthy cheat, one who had violated the ultimate taboo. As even Armstrong says, “Man, you don’t wish that on your worst enemy.”Only about eight people know for sure what happened in a certain Indiana cancer ward on October 27, 1996, the supposed date of Armstrong’s alleged hospital room confession. Armstrong watchers, cycling obsessives, and conspiracy theorists have argued about it, analyzed it, and blogged it to death, and no one would be surprised if it were to reemerge in LeMond’s suit against Trek, triggering a new flood of gossip.
The issue first came to light in the 2004 French book ‘L.A. Confidentiel,’ written by David Walsh, based on his London Times piece. Drawing on interviews with former teammates and support staff – and the LeMonds, who are thanked in the credits – Walsh alleges that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing substances both before and after he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. “I don’t know how long [Lance] can continue to convince everybody of his innocence,” LeMond told a French daily in July 2004, on the publication of ‘L.A. Confidentiel’ (Walsh updated the book and published it in English as ‘From Lance to Landis’ in 2007).
Though she’s not named as the source, it later emerged that Betsy Andreu, wife of former Armstrong friend and teammate Frankie Andreu, told Walsh that in October 1996, she and her husband were present in Armstrong’s hospital room when he told doctors he had used EPO, human growth hormone, and testosterone. Others there that day denied Armstrong had said any such thing, including Armstrong’s doctor, his coach, and a rep for Oakley sunglasses named Stephanie McIlvain, who worked with Armstrong and had also worked with LeMond. But the allegations led to a legal dispute between Armstrong and a company called SCA Promotions, which had promised a $5 million bonus if Armstrong won a sixth Tour. When Armstrong won a sixth time, SCA withheld the payment until an investigation could be completed.
LeMond was not in the room that day, but he ended up advising SCA and looking into the incident on his own. In 2002 he surreptitiously recorded a phone call with McIlvain, with whom he hadn’t spoken in years. “You’re not taping this, are you, Greg?” she asks jokingly on the recording (which is available online). “No, no,” he says, before leading her circuitously to the subject of the hospital room. “I was in that room,” she says. “I heard it. I definitely won’t lie.”
But McIlvain later testified that she hadn’t heard Armstrong admit to using any performance drugs. The LeMond tape was inadmissible as evidence, in part because recordings obtained without the subject’s consent are illegal in California, where McIlvain lives. Reached by phone, McIlvain declined to comment.
“Why would an icon of world sports do that?” Armstrong wonders about LeMond’s stealth recordings. “If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did that to Michael Jordan, we would think he was the craziest guy alive!”
“The police suggested I start taping conversations,” LeMond counters. “I felt really afraid, and not just financially. That period was not a fun period.”
SCA president Bob Hamman says LeMond’s comments and testimony “pretty much convinced us we should pursue the case” against Armstrong. But in the end, SCA ended up settling, in February 2006, for $5 million, plus another $2.5 million in interest and fees. Despite the parade of witnesses, the arbitrators never ruled on whether or not Armstrong had doped.“I’m not sitting in my house upset that he surpassed me by four Tours de France,” LeMond insists, but one could argue that Armstrong’s ascendancy was not necessarily a good thing for LeMond. Sponsors such as Oakley had dropped him unceremoniously; a deal to market a LeMond-branded line of low-end bikes and cycling accessories in Target stores also fell through, in 2002, in part because the company, PTI Holdings, felt LeMond was “no longer the preeminent American cyclist.” (LeMond sued for breach of contract and eventually won almost $3.5 million from PTI.)
Yet on balance Armstrong’s rise helped LeMond, by spurring interest in cycling to unprecedented levels. Sales of his road bikes jumped from less than $8 million in ’98 to more than $15 million, where it’s stayed until recently. It also benefited LeMond Fitness, which makes stationary bicycles and accessories. “I had everything to gain from him winning the Tour,” LeMond says. “But I couldn’t support him.”
The reason, he says, dates back to the 2000 Tour, when his former mechanic Julian DeVriese, who’d gone to work for Armstrong, told him that Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team was experimenting with some sort of superior blood-doping product, more powerful than EPO, that cleared out of an athlete’s body within 48 hours and was thus undetectable. “‘This isn’t cycling anymore,'” LeMond testified that DeVriese had told him. It was competitive pharmacology. (“Absolutely, 100 percent not true,” Armstrong says; DeVriese later signed an affidavit denying he’d said any such thing.)
LeMond says he was devastated. All of a sudden it made sense why he couldn’t seem to finish the Tour after 1991, and why his old teammate Philippe Casado had left for an Italian team that reputedly had an EPO program – and then died at age 30.
LeMond had had a squeaky-clean reputation as a racer, and in 1988, he quit his team when a teammate tested positive for testosterone. Even so, a whisper campaign alleging that he, too, used drugs during his career started around the time he first came to blows with Armstrong and continues online to this day. The case against LeMond goes something like this: He always used the most advanced cycling equipment. He was also a serious student of training and nutrition. Wouldn’t such an “early adopter” be drawn to a new miracle substance such as EPO? Especially if it hadn’t yet been banned from cycling? (EPO was officially forbidden in 1990 but couldn’t be reliably tested for until 2001.)
“What pissed me off about Lance’s accusations was his idea that my comeback was a ‘miracle,'” LeMond says. “Was I on a doping program at 15? When I was 16, I was the best bike rider in the United States.”
Others point to his final time trial in 1989, when he made up a 50-second deficit to leader Laurent Fignon in just 15 miles, ripping through the course at 34 mph and setting a Tour de France time-trial record that stood for 16 years – well into the EPO era. It’s still the third-fastest long time trial ever, surpassing all of Armstrong’s blazing-fast rides. Then there was the incident from the Giro d’Italia in that same year, when LeMond was struggling. In front of a VeloNews reporter, LeMond received three injections – of iron, he insists, nothing illegal. Nevertheless, his performance improved dramatically.
LeMond is launching into a long, complicated analysis of VO2 max, genetics, and aerodynamic handlebars when Kathy interrupts. “I think the one thing that’s indicative that you weren’t on the forefront of EPO is that you fell off the map!” she says. “You were beating your head against the wall!”
To that her husband has nothing to add.
The night before our bike ride I had dinner with the LeMonds at an upscale Italian restaurant in a mall. Afterward we walked over to a Borders, where LeMond beelined straight to the self-help section. “Have you read ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child?'” he asked.
LeMond discovered Alice Miller’s 1979 psychoanalytic classic early in therapy, as he began to face his past. Miller argues that the only cure for mental illness is to come to terms with the “unique history of our childhood.” Instead of dealing with his abuse once it stopped, LeMond transferred all of his energy into the bike. “Cycling saved my life. I know it did,” he told me at one point, breaking down. “It allowed me to reinvent myself.”
When I later read ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child,’ one passage leaps off the page. “The repression of brutal abuse experienced during childhood drives many people to destroy their lives and the lives of others,” Miller writes. “In an unconscious thirst for revenge, they may engage in acts of violence, burning homes and businesses and physically attacking other people, using this destruction to hide the truth from themselves and avoid feeling the despair of the tormented child they once were.”
In those two sentences Miller describes LeMond’s sense of outrage to a T. No longer ashamed of his abuse, LeMond actually seems to feed on it, as it propels him on his endless quest for justice – consequences be damned.
After the trauma of the Landis case last year, LeMond decided to take care of some unfinished business. He hired a private investigator, who located Ron in Nevada. The LeMonds called the man at his job, only to be informed that he had abruptly moved overseas. “I don’t know what I was going to do,” LeMond says; the statute of limitations on sexual abuse had long since expired.
The next person to be held accountable by the new LeMond was Tim Blixseth, founder of the Yellowstone Club, an exclusive resort near Bozeman, Montana. LeMond was among the first investors in the club, in 1999, but later believed Blixseth was misusing the money. LeMond sued in 2006, and this past fall the club settled with him and his co-investors for $38 million.
As the case grew heated, LeMond wondered if Blixseth’s lawyers were working with Armstrong. “I’m dealing with two sociopaths here, Blixseth and Lance,” he tells me. “There’s something creepy about having somebody this obsessed with trying to destroy your credibility.” (Blixseth declined to comment because the case has been reopened.)
This spring LeMond amped up his feud with Armstrong when he brought suit against Trek. (In a case of bad timing, he served notice of the lawsuit three days after the funeral of Trek founder Richard Burke, John’s father.) The case will get ugly. LeMond claims to have tapes of conversations with John Burke that are potentially damaging. Trek shot back with a claim that LeMond offered to take a vow of silence on the doping issue – for $10 million. All indicators point to a knock-down, drag-out fight. “It’s been a crazy, sad part to a cycling career I truly felt blessed with,” LeMond says.
About LeMond and his tumultuous history, Armstrong says: “I’ve seen it all, from when I was a 17-year-old watching ABC Sports and watching him win the Tour by eight seconds. If you asked me to sum it up, I’d say it’s a tragedy, bro. It’s an American tragedy.”
Back at the LeMond home after dinner, LeMond goes to return a call from a ‘New York Times’ reporter in the living room, furnished with exquisite antiques and Native American artifacts. “It’s hard to feel bad for him,” a major figure in U.S. cycling once told me, “living in a mansion with millions in the bank.”
On the other hand, his last few years have been anything but pretty. The Landis case was a personal and public nightmare for him, and he’s made it clear that Armstrong infuriates him. But what he rarely talks about is the fact that the amount of lead in his blood has increased fourfold from just a few years ago. “They did a study; anybody over two micrograms [of lead] is at 60 percent more risk of heart attack or stroke,” he tells me. “Mine’s 20.”
While Armstrong has essentially fled from professional cycling, LeMond is slowly returning to it. He is invited to antidoping summits and greeted like a hero at cycling events. After years of being treated like a crazy uncle in the attic, he’s now being listened to; and if there’s one thing Greg LeMond likes to do, it’s talk. It’s getting on toward 11 pm, and I’ve been here since 8:30 in the morning.
“He’s a great guy, on the inside,” Kathy says when he’s out of the room. “He went through a difficult period, and worked hard on himself. But he never really has changed.”
Just then the LeMonds’ 17-year-old daughter Simone comes home with a classmate named Taylor. She’s the youngest, with her father’s brash outspokenness. “Are you writing about how my dad is five years old?” she asks.
Tonight she’s peeved because her dad won’t let her get a driver’s license. “He says my eyes ‘glass over’ when I’m driving,” she pouts.
There’s already tension in the house because my questions have rekindled LeMond’s anger toward Armstrong and Landis. “I’m gonna hold Floyd accountable for what he did to me,” LeMond vows.
Yester the dog senses the unease in the air. “He’s overkill for us,” Kathy says, “but if someone tries to carjack me, he will jump through the open window at them.”
There are still a few kinks to work out. Yester recently trapped the electrician in his truck; now he slips away from Kathy, jumps up, and snaps at Taylor, nipping her in the side. He doesn’t break the skin, but the girl is terrified; weeping, she flees out the front door.
“Mom!” Simone screams. “I can’t have this! We’ve got to get rid of him!”
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