On This Date in Sports July 23, 1989: A Comeback for the Ages.

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In an unlikely comeback, American Greg LeMond wins the Tour de France for the second time in his career. The 1986 winner had survived an accidental shooting in 1987 and struggled to get back to top form. Trailing Laurent Fignon of France by 50 seconds entering the final stage, LeMond set a new record riding the 21st stage in 26:57. This was enough to beat Fignon by eight seconds in the closed Tour de France ever.

Greg LeMond was born in Lakewood, California on June 26, 1961. Growing up in the Washoe Valley in Nevada, was the perfect atmosphere as the Sierra Mountains prepared him for the mountain stages of the Tour de France. With land spread out it was hard to participate in team sports, leading the young LeMond to pursue other activities leading him to the sport of cycling. Greg LeMond showed early potential, in cycling as he finished second in the Tour of Fresno in 1977 at the age of 15. LeMond was to participate in the 1980 Olympics but lost his chance on the USA Cycling team when the United States called for a boycott of the games in Moscow.

Greg LeMond’s first ride in the Tour de France was a success as he finished third behind Laurent Fignon of France, earning the Young Rider Classification. In 1985 LeMond finished second behind Bernard Hinault of France, helping the team captain hold off his toughest competitors. A year later after Hinault reneged on a promise to return the favor, Greg LeMond held off his teammate and became the first non-European rider to capture the Tour de France.

While getting ready to defend his title, Greg LeMond was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law on a turkey hunt, when appeared out of the brush. LeMond was struck in the back by 60 shotgun pellets, and 20 minutes from bleeding out when he was airlifted to a nearby hospital. He was forced to undergo a series of surgery to remove the pellets as several remained in his body, including three in the lining of his heart and five in his liver. As a result, Greg LeMond would miss the Tour de France in 1987 and 1988.

After two years on the sideline, Greg LeMond lost his spot on the elite teams and was considering retirement as he struggled in the lead up to the 1989 Tour de France. However, he began to find his confidence and got off to a good start in France, winning stage five to grab the yellow jacket. The next two weeks would see some of the most exciting racing the in history of the Tour, as Laurent Fignon who had won in 1983 and 1984 took control of the race in the tenth stage as the two traded the lead five times. Greg LeMond remained close as he was 50 seconds back heading into the 21st and final stage.

The 21st stage of the Tour de France is an individual time trial in the heart of Paris, along the Champs-Elysees. Fignon had gone into the last stage suffering from saddle sores and realized he was in trouble as Greg LeMond was riding on a record pace and shaved 21 seconds off his lead at the midway checkpoint. Fignon was riding as fast as he could hoping to hold on, but LeMond riding at a speed of 33.8 mph as able to complete the final star in 26:57 seconds. Fignon was able to finish in a time of 27:55, off by 58 seconds. However, it was eight seconds behind the time he needed as Greg LeMond had overcome a 50-second deficit to win the closest Tour de France ever.

Greg LeMond would add a third Tour de France victory in 1990 as he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1989.