Two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon has died aged 50 following a battle with cancer, the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris confirmed on Tuesday.
“Valerie Fignon, his wife, is sad to announce the death of Laurent Fignon today,” the hospital said in a statement.
The French rider won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, and was runner-up in 1989 when he lost by just eight seconds, the smallest margin in the history of the race, to American Greg LeMond.
LeMond on Tuesday paid tribute to Fignon as “one of the greater champions, who was recognised more for his loss in the (1989) Tour de France than his first two victories.”
Date of birth: August 12, 1960, Paris, France
Professional career: 1982-1993
French National Road Race Championships, 1984
Milan-Sanremo, 1988 and 1989
La Fleche Wallonne, 1986
Morbihan Grand Prix, 1983
Grand Prix des Nations, 1989
Criterium International, 1982 and 1990
Tour of Sicily, 1985
Tour of the Netherlands, 1989
Ruta de Mexico, 1993
Tour de France, 1983 and 1984; 2nd in 1989; nine stages; yellow jersey for
Giro d’Italia, 1989; 2nd in 1984; two stages; best climber in 1984; pink
jersey for 15 days
Vuelta a España, 3rd in 1987; two stages
“It’s a really sad day. I see him as one of the great riders who was hampered by injuries. He had a very, very big talent — much more than anyone recognized,” LeMond told France 24 television.
“We were also teammates, competitors, but also friends. When he lost the Tour de France in 1989 it was one of the few where I felt we both won,” said the three-time Tour de France champion.
“The saddest thing for me is that for the rest of his career he said he won two Tours de France, when in reality we both could have won that race.”
Fignon achieved 76 victories during his career, which was later overshadowed by positive tests for illegal substances twice in the late 1980s.
In his book about his career, ‘We Were Young and Unconcerned’, Fignon admitted taking amphetamines and cortisone but did not establish a direct link with his cancer of the digestive system.
“In those days everyone was doing it,” he explained in the book. “But it is impossible to know to what extent doping harms you.
“Whether those who lived through 1998, when a lot of extreme things happened, will get cancer after 10 or 20 years, I really can’t say.”
His first victory in the world’s most famous cycling race in 1983 was helped by the fall of the yellow jersey rider Pascal Simon, but he showed the win was no fluke by going on to win five stages and the race the following year.
He showed his skill in all categories — the classics and the road races — winning the prestigious Milan-Sanremo twice before finally winning the Tour of Italy in 1989, five years after finishing runner-up.
A consultant with France Television, he commentated on the Tour de France in 2009 and 2010 despite the treatment he was receiving.
French sports minister Rama Yade paid tribute to a man “of great courage who battled sickness these past few months”.
“Today I’m saddened at the passing of a legend of French sport, but in any case he’ll leave a permanent mark on French cycling and a great legacy,” she said.