Laurent Fignon is on the front page of all the French newspapers I saw in my local tabac today. L’Equipe calls him “Un Mec à Part“, or a “different kind of guy”.
I can’t add to all the anecdotes and quotes. As ever, The Inner Ring is about taking a different angle on things. So what made Fignon stand apart from so many others? For me it was his franc parler, his frank speech, his willingness to speak the truth even if it meant disturbing some or harming his own interests.
A detour on truth
Parrhesia is a term from ancient Greece. Literally “to speak everything“, it means speaking the truth, being bold in your words. Put simply, it means calling a spade a spade even if it means upsetting someone. Fast forward from ancient Greece to the 20th century and it was an idea close to French philosopher Michel Foucault:
In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy.
From Foucault to Fignon
Such willingness to tell the truth, even if it means self-criticism or upsetting others was, for me, the greatest aspect of Laurent Fignon. Sometimes described as prickly – he won an award in 1989, the Prix Citron, for being unhelpful to journalists – this was more because he chose blunt speaking instead of flattery. This morning Eddy Merckx mentions Fignon’s honesty, “he always gave his opinion, he didn’t beat about the bush” and many others cite exactly the same thing. It’s this that makes him so different. This wasn’t just a man born with the DNA necessary to win bike races, his mind was different.
Yet Fignon was not a loud-mouth, in fact he was often shy. It was just that if asked a question, he’d give his opinion, including pointing out that the question was stupid, if appropriate, thus humiliating a badly-prepared journalist. Sometimes the truth can be rude.
This way of being seems to have been liberating, he lived life free of many burdens, young and carefree to the end.