Thursday, February 9, 2012

We Were Young and Carefree

As mentioned in my most recent post, I have read a lot of books recently about the classic years of the grand tour races and the one day classics from the 50s through the 80s, including biographies and autobiographies of some of the greats:  Coppi (Fallen Angel); Tom Simpson (Put Me Back on My Bike);  Jacques Anguetil (Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape) and Slaying the Badger, the story of the rivalry between Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond.   I've also read probably too much about one Lance Armstrong - perhaps I'll write my feelings about him one day soon...

Perhaps my favorite of these biographies is We Were Young and Carefree, the autobiography of Laurent Fignon (translated into English by William Fotheringham).

Cover of the English Language Version
...and the original French
Fignon was born in Paris less than a month before I was born and, sadly, passed way of pancreatic cancer in 2010.   I never really liked him when he was riding to his two Tour de France victories in the early eighties or when he famously lost the Tour by a mere 8 seconds to Greg LeMond in 1989 when LeMond used "aerobars" for the first time [can you imagine riding 3285 km around France and losing by just 8 seconds??].   He was well known for being intensely private and was seen by the media as awkward and often aggressive.  Consequently, he was frequently awarded the "Prix Citron" by the press for being the least likable rider in the Tour.

In many ways then, reading this book I had the opposite experience of when I read Dana Torres' "Age Is Just a Number".....   in that case I started with a positive opinion of Dana and ended up liking her less; in this case I had a relatively low opinion of Laurent Fignon and ended up liking and having a lot more respect for him.  The primary reason is simply that the book comes across as straightforward and honest.   Fignon doesn't sugar coat things and is at least as hard on himself as he is on rivals, coaches, and so on.

Shadowed by LeMond in 1989
 Fignon (rightly in my opinion) points out that he rode in the last great era before epo and growth hormone started to rot the sport of professional cycling to its core.  That said, he doesn't shy away from discussing amphetamine use (including getting caught once himself) and some of the darker sides of pro. cycling. His insights are fascinating, insightful and often biting.  He was clearly still bitter at the time he wrote this book (published 2009) about LeMond's use of technology that he believed to be illegal and even more vocal about how the Italian Cycling Federation prevented him from winning the Giro one year via all manner of dirty tricks - great stuff!   The politics and antics of the Directors Sportifs in French teams make todays Republican Presidential candidates look positively genteel! 

I really enjoyed this one both as an insight into the professional cycling tour in (primarly) the eighties and also as a human interest story.   The often maligned Laurent Fignon lays it all on the line and still comes across as an honest and decent guy.  I give this one an "A".

When Laurent still had hair!

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