An Interview with Greg LeMond
Greg LeMond
Greg LeMond, Former Professional Road Racing Cyclist Three-Time Tour de France Winner; Two-Time World Champion

STUART S. JANNEY: Greg LeMond is considered in many quarters to be the greatest American cyclist of all time. He is a three-time winner of the Tour de France in 1986, 1989, and 1990; and a two-time winner of the Road Race World Championship in 1983 and 1989.

Greg has been a vocal anti-doping advocate in the cycling arena, and he became a lightning rod for some of the sport’s most prominent personalities and regulatory bodies toward the end of his career.

He retired from competition in 1994 and was inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame two years later.
He has strong beliefs about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s going to share some of those thoughts now in an interview with Jim Gagliano, our president and chief operating officer.

JAMES GAGLIANO: Good morning, and thank you, Greg, for being with us. It's a great honor to have you, the greatest American cyclist, join our Round Table Conference.

You were very outspoken about concerns about cheating in cycling at one point. Can you just help us understand, what is the culture then that you experienced and what were the repercussions?

GREG LEMOND: I dominated almost every race the moment I got into cycling, so for my incentive to cheat, I never — I won clean, and so I was very outspoken even in the ’80s every team I was on. At the time in the ’80s there were no doctors on the team. In the late 1980s, really 1990, ’91, a drug called EPO came out. Athletes are very competitive and they always believe that somebody else is doing something, either they're training harder or they're cheating.

But I was pushed out of the team, and so that's the inner team deal. If you don't participate in a drug program you're slowly weeded out.

JAMES GAGLIANO: You felt that pressure to perhaps use performance-enhancing drugs and you resisted them?

GREG LEMOND: What they do, the doctors seduce, they're like, Oh, your hormones are a little bit low; take this, and slowly they get people into a full drug program.

I would say that I already won the Tour De France, and my wife and I talked right after that. I can't even be associated with a team that has doping involved. I would take everything that I did in my career and it would be gone.

And so losing kind of — losing the Tour De France, but more importantly your reputation. There is a lot of races that race against the people. They have to get angry.

I just looked at a race from point A to point B. It was always about challenging myself rather than kind of picking my enemy and beating them. It was always about me doing my best. I think that really set me apart from a lot of riders.

That meant if I cheated to win, I wasn't doing it myself.

JAMES GAGLIANO: After your accident, the remarkable comeback, how did you prepare yourself for that? You had a near fatal injury, a hunting accident?

GREG LEMOND: I went from 149 pounds to 118, 119 pounds. I lost 70% of my blood volume. My right lung was collapsed. But the surgeon said, “There is nothing permanent. You'll come back.”

So that was my mindset. I wasn't being realistic in my comeback. I needed to slow down the comeback and train, slowly progressively. But the truth is, 1987, there was no team that would take me unless I came back and raced that year.

So five months later I flew to Europe and started a race. I made it one mile and pretended I had a flat. So I was under tremendous pressure to perform, and it was psychologically difficult. I went from never suffering, being in the front, winning the Tour De France, to being literally the last guy in the peloton, laughed at by the peloton.

So it was two years of really days I wanted to quit, but I always believed that if I stuck to it, one day if my natural talent wasn't permanently damaged, I would come back. That's the only thing that kept me going.

And I look at that, when you look at doping, I knew that if I was naturally that good, could win races without it, I'll get there again. I wish I would've had a little more advice on training and taken it a little bit slower coming back.

JAMES GAGLIANO: Back to the doping questions. You actually testified before USADA about Floyd Landis. Can you tell us little bit about that, and what makes USADA unique, and today, their role, what's unique about that and how does that change the sport?

GREG LEMOND: Well, it's been critical because I think if you look at really the doping, what's happened in cycling, it's really about corruption.

At the time, even in the ’90s, it started to become a lot of money. And I've heard rumors many years later that a rider in ’94 was positive and the head of a governing body, and a race organizer, forced the rider to pay half a million dollars to keep the victory.

So those are the things that start undermining the sport. If you hear people getting away with it that are obviously cheating, not being held accountable, it plays havoc on the rest of the riders.

I was vocal. I said in the ’80s, I have a news article after I won the 1989 Tour De France. We had a teammate from PDM who died. It became like not just about cheating, it became about the health of the athletes. A little bit like what's happening with horse racing.

I was at the Tour De France at that point. There were hotel raids. The car was found with literally I think 1,000 ampules of different drugs just for a three-week race.

It really exposed what was really happening in the sport that was kind of being pushed under the rug. I happened to be there and I said, “This is the very best thing for the sport.” I think everybody said, “Okay, let's go and try to start from scratch.”

They started — you know, they started to work with the UCI, but more importantly they started working with Interpol. The police in France became involved. I really didn't make a lot of comments about Armstrong. I tried to say the least amount because I knew I would be killed for it.

But at one point, I just said — I really didn't say a whole lot, but I wanted to separate myself from even what he was doing, because I knew that what the sport was — will taint everybody in the past.

But I do know what was going on. I knew that Floyd Landis was on that team. When Armstrong retired, he won in 2006, and I was really excited. He actually raced more like a clean rider, Floyd Landis. Then when he was positive, now here is a little bit of corruption. I knew that he was positive before he knew that he was positive because the brother — the president called me and told me, “The worst thing has happened,” and I knew Floyd Landis was positive.

I'm going, “Oh, this is horrible.” So I pleaded for him to call me. So when we talked, he inadvertently admitted that he was doing it. He says, “I can't come clean because I've destroyed my family, friends.” I said, “I'll do whatever I can to support you.”

What I was really thinking at that point is plea bargaining. I really believe that riders should be given a chance to come clean, the one time. And come clean means outing the doctor, and all those people should be banned forever, permanently. Never again. Even the team. If the team owner knew about it, they're gone.

I would say doping here is a lot less right now in cycling, but you still kind of — and I look at doping as almost like radar and police. When I lived in France I was driving at 120 miles, 130 miles an hour everywhere. It was just the way you did it.

I came back in 2009 or ’10, and my friend who always drove as fast as you could, 155 miles an hour, he's doing
70. I'm going, “What's happened? What did you lose?” Radar. Every five, 10 kilometers was radar.

That's what you hope with doping controls, is that you keep it to where you're not killing people and where the — you're not going to detect everything, but I do think right now the drug tests are much better.

I think what's changed in cycling has been the biological passport, so they're tracking the physiology and the blood values of an athlete. The great thing in cycling, I've tried to push this, is that we have a device called a power meter that can measure your power output, and power output is directly related to your oxygen.

So we could actually start profiling young riders before they're doping. And there is no — there are no miracles. Your physiology is your physiology.  Even today at 59. At 47 I did a VO2 Max test, and the liters of oxygen I took in at 47 were the same as when I was racing, so I just gained a lot of weight.

So there are a lot of things you can do to actually encourage riders. So Floyd Landis attacked me, that's when I decided, OK, no more help. So that's how that happened.

I said, I've been a proponent of giving riders a chance one time, because if the incentive is not losing — right now being silent you can get away with it. You're not going to be ostracized by the group.

In the time when you were positive you got like a very short suspension. But you need to have it to where the riders have an incentive to out people. Otherwise there is no way to — I don't think there is a way to get rid of it.

JAMES GAGLIANO: We don't have a great whistleblower network in our sport and I'm always a little amazed at that.

GREG LEMOND: So who is the ultimate regulations, but setting the rules? Just kind of —

JAMES GAGLIANO: So that's kind of the interesting thing that brings us to you today, is that each state under its legislature has authorized horse racing. As time went on and pharmacology became a real science for sports, you can imagine, it's really easy to have integrity problems.

GREG LEMOND: Especially when you don't have uniformity, it's almost — sounds very difficult for what you guys are going through in terms of trying to really figure out how to eliminate it. Very difficult.

JAMES GAGLIANO: So we are trying to get a federal bill passed, which is never easy. The federal bill that we've got we've had in Congress for a few sessions now. It would put United States Anti-Doping in charge of horse racing medication regulation.

GREG LEMOND: Okay. Okay. That's good.

JAMES GAGLIANO: So I kind of came to you doing research about USADA, getting to know those guys, and following closely to the Lance Armstrong affair, and saw how, frankly, you were more or less abused in that time and have can come out, and now you're going to get the Congressional Gold Medal.

GREG LEMOND: I know. Yeah, it's actually — but I do too much and almost — when you know too much, it becomes very hard to go along with it.

JAMES GAGLIANO: You were involved in a lot of the terrible — your observations during some of these times they were tough on cycling as a sport. It really on an ascendency, and a lot of people said, well, with these indictments and other penalties that were coming down on famous riders like Armstrong and Landis, it was going to really hurt the sport.

What does the sport look like today?

GREG LEMOND: Well, I mean, it's funny, because cheating is — I guess it's a way of life. You've always got to try to be up on it. This is what I don't get, even for the sport. When the damage that Armstrong did — and I think Formula 1 is a very good example where they decided no more cheating, every car has to be tested. They did it because it's good business.

And cycling, too. Cycling is such a magical sport and the sport cold be so much bigger, a lot more money and sponsors in it, if they can assure the public that it is legitimate.

In spite of that, people love the Tour De France. There was a moment, especially during Armstrong's period, that they said, the people, they want, they want to see drama. Actually, a clean race is much more dramatic than a doped race. I do believe that people want to know who wins and legitimately wins.

So a clean sport is really good for business, too. I think you can eliminate almost all the cheating in cycling with a few simple things. Even that little exercise that I've tried to push, they don't want to admit that there might have been motors. They kind of did a half, I’d call it, kind of looking into it.

I still think that's a risk in cycling right now. But I think having a sport clean, I think it's good business. I think what you're dealing with horse racing is that there are illegal activities going. When there is illegal activities, there is betting, there is drugs. I mean, I'm looking at it and it's not just doping. They're actually making money from their own drug manufacturing.

So there is a lot of money and their incentive is so great, so you need to have repercussions; you need to hold people accountable. Those people who are caught, the trainers and all that, they should never be allowed back in the sport, period.

JAMES GAGLIANO: Certainly we agree with that. Look, you've been very generous with your time today. I'll just ask one last question. You have some awareness of what our sport is going through today.

What bit of advice would you offer to us as we come through it that hopefully will put us in the position like cycling has?

GREG LEMOND: I think transparency is everything. I think that what I saw cycling, they kept putting Bands-Aids over one scandal to another. It just prolonged the pain.

I think you got to use this moment to try to clean house and really come up with ways that can prevent this happening in the future.

It's not going to be easy. It's a challenge. But I think if you want the sport to have legitimacy, even with the betting, people need to know that it's not fixed. That's what — in cycling there was — there has been betting in cycling, too.

So it’s money, it's a very complex thing to get rid of, but I think in today's cycling I would say — I never finished that, but in cycling I'm watching it because I know the physiology, I know the power outputs of riders, and we are close to clean right now in cycling.

So if cycling can do it, I think horse racing can do it. The sad part about horse racing, the horse can't talk. The reality is it's the victim that can't really — doesn't have any say.

So I think it's really cracking down on the people that have been making money off cheating. You've got to crack down and they need to have real severe consequence.

Not just kicked out or one-time suspension. It needs to be for life. Those trainers — there are other trainers that are just as good.

Everybody believes that one person is so valuable to a sport. You know, they get away from it, there will be another person that replaces that person.

So it's not easy, but I think it's right that you got USADA in. Cycling has had — probably of any sport in the world, cycling has been the most scrutinized sport. So there is a good example of watching how cycling has changed for horse racing.

JAMES GAGLIANO: Greg, thank you so much for your time today. Those are some great bits of wisdom for us.

GREG LEMOND: I'm looking forward to following horse racing now. For me, they're like athletes. A horse is an athlete. I'll follow the sport, especially what's happening right now. I want to thank you. This has been really exciting to talk to you and learn about what's happening in horse racing.

JAMES GAGLIANO: When we get through this pandemic, we'll have to come to one of our racetracks soon.

GREG LEMOND: I would love it. I would love it.

JAMES GAGLIANO: Thanks so much. I'll return the program back to Chairman Janney.

STUART S. JANNEY: Thank you for your remarks, Greg. I want to also congratulate you on being considered for the Congressional Gold Medal by the 116th Congress. It would be an award in recognition of Greg’s service to the nation as an athlete, activist, role model, and community leader.

He certainly deserves that recognition, and I expect you'll be reading about him receiving that honor in the future.

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