On This Day In 1989

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A small anecdote from May 1989 that had some big consequences…

The 1989 Giro d’Italia started on 21 May in Sicily, the race at that time enjoying a later slot on the calendar given today we’re already past halfway through the Giro. Among the starting teams that year was Ariostea, an Italian squad sponsored by a ceramic tile manufacturer with several good riders. But on the eve of the 1989 Giro the team decided it could not do the Giro-Tour double and would give up its start in the Tour de France starting on the 1 July.

It’s rare for a team to turn down a start in the Tour de France but this was all before the World Tour system we know today and squads were much smaller, typically half the size of today’s teams. Ariostea only had 15 riders – that’s the whole team in the postcard above – and nine of them were lining up for the Giro. As an Italian team the Giro was their home race, their priority.

So the Tour de France organisers were a team down just a few weeks out from the start. Fortunately they decided to invite a replacement squad. But which team to invite? They settled on ADR, a Belgian team that had been launched in 1987. Sponsored by a Belgian vehicle hire company “All Drive Rental” it began with a fanfare and the ambitions of a superteam with almost 40 riders on its books, winning Paris-Roubaix from the start and then the Tour of Flanders in 1988. But if you can’t place ADR in the car rental market alongside Hertz or Europcar, don’t worry. It was a small Belgian firm and by 1989 the team’s budget was running dry, the ADR team was down to a rump of 20 riders – still big for the time – and struggling to pay the remaining slender wage bill.

Greg LeMond had been accidentally shot in a hunting accident in 1987 and his comeback was proving difficult, to the point of him signing with ADR on a meagre contract because that was all he could find. He’d done alright in the Critérium International early that year, he was a past Tour winner and perhaps as an American he swayed the Tour’s new director at a time when the race was being transformed into a more streamlined and marketable business and the US TV channel ABC was covering the race, they even had their own in-race motobike and while US team 7-Eleven was starting, why not add LeMond too? This is just a guess though but it was these outside interests that come to mind because sports wise he and ADR didn’t offer much in the moment. Nobody saw him as a Giro contender in May 1989 and jumping forward to July, nobody saw him as a Tour contender either. In its preview for the 1989 Tour de France, Miroir de Cyclisme magazine says ADR might be able to win a stage but only if they can get riders into the right breakaway as they can’t expect to win a sprint or summit finish and as for LeMond, he and his form are a “mystery”.

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Only the rest as they say is history with ADR taking to the start of the 1989 Tour de France and Greg LeMond winning the race three weeks later. It was one of the finest editions ever where the eight second margin between him and Laurent Fignon is memorable but a postscript, the result after the race was over. Throughout July the contest was so good with the yellow jersey swapping back and forth. All that would never have happened if the Ariostea team had not decided to give up their invitation to race the Tour de France just weeks before the race started.

39 thoughts on “On This Day In 1989”

  1. Yet if Lemond hadn’t the prescience to fit his TT bike with tri-bars (widely used in US triathlons at that time) or Fignon hadn’t declined to do so he surely wouldn’t have won. Given that Lemond won the first TT (73kms!) on a bike fitted with them surely Fignon and his Super U team coud have seen the future and obtained a set for the final – and fatal – Paris TT.

    1989: a 7,8km prologue, 73km , 39km and 24km ITTs and a 46km TTT, all of which should have favoured Fignon and his strong Super U team. How times change.

    • The tri-bars certainly helped… LeMond wasn’t quite the pioneer here as the 7-Eleven team were using them in the race too. At the time though the bars weren’t seen for what they were, they were more a curiosity, one newspaper described LeMond’s “double handlebars” and the idea was it just gave him more positions, and a chance to rest his arms rather than bringing the arms and shoulders in for big aero gains.

    • ISTR Super U had considered aerobars but ultimately rejected them for falling afoul of regulations (3 points of contact, I think it was) and Fignon felt Guimard should have protested their use. I also STR that Super U wanted to use those bars in a later race, but was denied for failing said reg.

      The Tour has always been flexible (sometimes inconsistently) about how and when to apply rules, but IMO what makes the Tour the preeminent GT is the fact that it doesn’t necessarily favor its countrymen, and will sometimes disfavor them, such as here. Compare with the Giro, which for long had a much more provincial character and a few years earlier (1984) did everything it could to ensure Moser would get the win over Fignon.

      The other mostly forgotten thing about that Tour was Delgado showing up 2:40 late to the prologue. Apparently he was so demoralized in the TTT that Reynolds finished 4’+ back, and going into the first mountain stage Delgado was some 7′ back. He finished in Paris at 3’43. HTH did he miss showing up at the prologue??

  2. Makes you think what would have happened if Ariostea rode the 89 Tour and how the racing would have unfolded without Lemond.

    Have other teams turned dow a TDF invite?

    • Hmm, hard to say. Fignon runs away with it as Delgado is delayed by his prologue? But LeMond’s presence seemed to inspire Fignon to attack at times, once they were rivals Fignon attacked to put time into LeMond when he could and it might not have been the same with having to take on Delgado. Without the Fignon-LeMond duel it could not have been as exciting and probably without the Tour in his legs and the confidence of the win, maybe LeMond doesn’t win the Worlds either?

      Watching the Giro right now and Arkéa-Samsic turned down a space so Bardiani-CSF or Drone Hopper got a ride this way. Not quite the same story at the moment but if one can take a stage win there’s an echo of it all here.

  3. Theunisse without gloves. Is it a Dutch thing lol? I understand MvDP not wearing them because he came from cx and MTB, but I’d personally would miss the tan lines.

  4. Great pic. Theunisse for some reason has a 70’s high flange hub on his rear wheel, Fignon with Delta “brakes”, and everyone on tiny (21mm?) tires.

    • and by today’s standard Lemond has remarkably wide bars. The others too I suppose. Lemond’s the only one with a computer too (an early Cat-Eye giving max and mean speed, and trip/total distance?)

      • Bars only began to get narrow in the 2010s, Adam Hansen had a big part to play in this.

        Look at Fignon’s fork, it’s got a computer there. I can see why this did not catch on. He’s probably on clincher tires too.

        LeMond’s got a frame with Bottechia decals but it’s clearly a TVT carbon frame, one of the earliest carbon frames.

        • Well spotted for Fignon’s computer. The sensor and display in one unit mounted on the lower fork. No switching between functions and good eyesight required.

          And yes, one of the earlist carbon frames with plain C tubes fitted into cast and machined aluminium lugs. The others still on steel frames.

          Theunisse on Cinelli’s expensive, short-lived, but not very secure Record stem with concealed clamp.

        • From memory, I think Boardman rode with narrow bars, no doubt transferring knowledge from track and TTing. He was seen as a specialist though, so it did not catch on.

        • Meanwhile look at Fignon’s brakes — the finest ever made. Useless apprently. When I was a kid watching this edition from Scotland an old-timer had a pair on his Pinarello, and described them as “man’s brakes” as a “woman couldnae use em”. Long time ago hey.

    • Ariostea had a stage win in 1990 with Moreno Argentin and then returned in 1991 with multiple stage wins, a team time trial win and a spell in the yellow jersey. This was also about the time EPO started to be used which could explain things but the timing’s not obvious.

      • Didn’t Ariostea have Sorensen in yellow, but crashed out in TTT?
        I forget who took the lead, but they wouldn’t wear the jersey as it was because of another riders misfortune.
        Not sure which year.

  5. Fascinating – can’t quite believe I didn’t know this.

    So one small but interesting thing here – presumably this means that a few weeks from the start, Lemond didn’t think he’d be riding the Tour (and was therefore training, or not training. accordingly)? The Vuelta would have already taken place at that point, given its spring slot back in the day, so one wonders what if anything he was training for. Maybe that helped…

  6. I suspect that professional athletes, in any sport, just keep themselves in shape, all the time. There’s sod all else to do in most of America after all…

  7. Excellent retrospective piece. ADR’s success has was a 1 in a million chance. Looking back it sheds how many stars had to align for Lemondster to win that Tour.
    Lemond was never paid for ADR. Enabling him to go on to Team Z.

  8. Excellent retrospective piece. ADR’s success has was a 1 in a million chance. Looking back it sheds how many stars had to align for Lemondster to win that Tour.
    Lemond was never paid for ADR. Enabling him to go on to Team Z.

  9. Extraordinary turn of events and fascinating that Lemond was able to win the greatest prize in cycling with what I assume was relatively weak team support, truly a different era

    • I’ve just looked it up and the startlist was:
      141 LEMOND Greg
      142 HOSTE Frank
      143 KUUM Jaanus
      144 LAMMERTS Johan
      145 MARTENS René
      146 MUSEEUW Johan
      147 PLANCKAERT Eddy
      148 VAN HOLEN Ronny
      149 VAN VOOREN Philippe

  10. FYI. The two Getty images are not showing on my iPad. The Ariostea image does show. I only paid attention when I read the comment about Birkenstock sandals and realized the relevant image was missing. You mentioned new software a while ago but I thought at the time I was okay.

    • Thanks for the feedback. As it’s a third party image bank it’s hard to fix but all I get to see is the images, concern people get nonsense adverts served to them. But otherwise it’s hard to find images to share of the 89 Tour

  11. Just teases the question, what if Lemond had not been shot? How many GT wins would he have
    accrued? How would that have influenced the US participation in pro road road racing today?

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