Saddled with difficulties, but LeMond powers on
From sexual abuse to ADHD and living with just one kidney, Greg LeMond’s story is one of victory over all obstacles, writes EOIN BURKE-KENNEDY
IT’S PARIS, late July 1986 and US rider Greg LeMond has just won the Tour De France, the most coveted prize in cycling. He is standing on the winner’s podium, shaking hands with the city’s mayor, Jacques Chirac.
The 25-year-old Californian is a picture of vitality and athleticism: a young man at the pinnacle of sport.
Missing, or perhaps invisible, in this victory pageant is LeMond’s interior.
It has never been an easy place to reside on account of a secret he closely guards; an unsettling truth which he’s never divulged to anyone but which eats away at him constantly.
When LeMond was 12 years old he was sexually abused by an older family friend. He doesn’t remember if the abuse lasted for three months or for a year and three months.
Even as he climbs onto the podium in Paris, seemingly immersed in victory, thoughts of his abuser course through him.
At the very moment of triumph, he is caught in the crosshairs of shame and revulsion.
“US TV had been following the race. It was getting a lot of traction and, for whatever reason, I thought . . . I hope this guy doesn’t come out and say things about me or try to embarrass me.
“It’s so illogical. I thought if people knew what really happened to me as a child they wouldn’t like me.
“It was like a fear that something would be exposed. When you’re abused, you don’t realise you’re a victim. There’s a shame you feel for having been part of it . . . that you participated. It’s subtle stuff that you don’t think will ever rear its ugly head but it does eventually.
“Some men take until they’ve destroyed their lives before they face up to it. It took me until I was 42 to tell my wife.”
Revelations about LeMond’s abuse emerged in the most bizarre fashion in 2007 at an arbitration hearing for disgraced US cyclist Floyd Landis.
Landis, the 2006 Tour de France winner, had tested positive for a banned substance during the race and stood to be stripped of his victory if found guilty.
LeMond had been called to testify about a phone call he had had with Landis a few days prior to the positive tests.
In the course of the conversation, LeMond said he urged Landis to come clean if he had doped for the sake of his own mental health.
LeMond told Landis about the secret he had kept for many years and how it had eaten him up inside. Landis and LeMond subsequently fell out over a newspaper report about the call.
However, the night before the Landis hearing, LeMond received a sinister phone call from a man, claiming to be his abuser, and threatening to expose the abuse and embarrass him if he testified.
When LeMond showed the incoming call number at the hearing the next day, it was instantly recognised by journalists as belonging to Landis’s friend and business manager, Will Geoghegan. Landis later apologised for Geoghegan’s call.
The incident persuaded LeMond, who has suffered occasionally from depression as result of his childhood trauma, of the need to help others struggling to emerge from the legacy of abuse and he has latterly become a founding board member of the US victims’ group, One in Six.
It is just one aspect of an extraordinary life, on and off the saddle.
Another is the fact that he has been functioning on just one kidney since he was 11.