"It's a really sad day. He had a very, very big talent, much more than anyone recognised. We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfill the rest of his career. But he was a great rider."
Laurent Patrick Fignon (French pronunciation: [loʁɑ̃ fiɲɔ̃]; 12 August 1960 – 31 August 2010) was a French professional road bicycle racer who won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984 and the Giro d'Italia in 1989. He nearly captured the Tour de France for a third time in 1989 before being edged by Greg LeMond by 8 seconds, the closest margin ever to decide the Tour. Fignon won many classic races, including taking Milan–San Remo back-to-back in 1988 and 1989. He died from cancer in 2010.
Fignon was born in Montmartre, Paris. His family moved to Tournan-en-Brie in 1963, where he lived until he left for Paris at age 23.
His first sport was football and he got as far as playing for his département or area. Friends encouraged him into cycling and he rode his first official race in 1976, which he won. Fignon's parents did not want him to race, and he raced without them knowing. He won four more races in his first year, but only one in his second year. In this third year, he won 18 out of 36 races. Fignon's parents allowed him to race, but still thought that he should study. Fignon entered the University of Villetaneuse, studying Structural and Materials Science. Fignon was not interested in his studies, and was an indifferent student. His chief Desire was to pursue cycling. He told his parents that he was leaving the university and would join the army at the end of the year to do his military Service. He was posted at the Bataillon de Joinville, known for its sporting reputation. After this, Fignon was sure he wanted to pursue a professional career.
In his autobiography, Fignon admitted to using recreational drugs, and occasionally using stimulants in the 1980s. He noted this was widespread, and that the practice would not dramatically change the capabilities of a rider. He noted major changes in the sport in the early 1990s with the onset of routine use of Human Growth Hormone and the blood-booster, EPO. Fignon stated he was revolted by the idea of taking hormones to enhance performance, and the mere suggestion he refused out of hand. He retired from competition in 1993 when he realized that cycling had changed, and that he no longer had a place in it.
In 1981, Fignon rode the Tour of Corsica which allowed amateur cyclists to ride along with professional riders. Fignon rode an early stage attempting to hold the wheel of Bernard Hinault, the top professional Cyclist, and succeeded for much of the race. Cyrille Guimard observed the young Cyclist a few days later at the national 100 km team time trial. In May 1981 he offered him a place on his Renault-Elf-Gitane professional team from the following year. Fignon joined the team in 1982, along with longtime friend and fellow junior rider Pascal Jules. Fignon was 21 years of age.
In 1982, Fignon rode the 1982 Giro d'Italia. After Fignon broke away in the second stage, he became the leader of the race, and got to wear the pink jersey. He lost the lead in the next stage, but became Hinault's most trusted team mate in the mountains. In Paris–Tours, Fignon had escaped and made a break of 40 seconds, when his crank broke. During this first year as a professional, Fignon won the Critérium International.
Fignon later said that he was lucky to have won the 1983 Tour: if Hinault had been present Fignon would have helped him, as Hinault was the team leader.
The 1984 Tour de France was a battle between Fignon and his former team leader Hinault. Hinault won the prologue, but Fignon won back time when his team won the team time trial in stage three. After a large escape in the fifth stage, Fignon's team mate Vincent Barteau was leading the race. In the seventh stage, Fignon won the time trial, beating Hinault by 49 seconds. Barteau was still leading the race, and remained the leader after the Pyrenées.
Coming into the 1985 season Fignon felt stronger than ever, but a knee injury caused him to miss the 1985 Tour. The following season his team took on a new sponsor, and became the Système U cycling team. In 1986 Fignon won La Flèche Wallonne and he entered the 1986 Tour de France, but placed poorly in the first individual time trial and retired on stage 12 to Pau.
Fignon tested positive for amphetamines at the Grand Prix de Wallonie, in 1987, where he finished third. He was subsequently disqualified from the final result but claimed, in his autobiography, that the positive test was the result of a commercial dispute between two Belgian companies.
Fignon tested positive for amphetamines a second time, at the Grand Prix de la Liberation, on 17 September 1989.
Fignon withdrew from the 1990 Tour, but finished 6th in 1991. Following this Fignon moved over to the Italian Gatorade team to act as co-captain and advisor to promising young talent Gianni Bugno. After a dramatic 1992 Giro d'Italia, in which he was in heavy crisis during mountain stages, he rode his last Tour that same year, finishing 23rd overall. The race saw an angered Fignon take his ninth stage win, holding off a series of attacks by Guimard's Castorama team before winning at Mulhouse during stage 11. Fignon's last victory as professional Cyclist was in the early-season Ruta Mexico in 1993, after a tight duel with Francisco Villalobos and surviving a massive collision that saw the group hit by a tow truck driven by a drunken man. Fignon retired as a professional Cyclist late 1993.
In 1995, Fignon founded the "Laurent Fignon organisation", to organize races, notably Paris–Nice, from 2000 until it was taken over by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the organiser of Tour de France, in 2002. Fignon remained an organiser for races such as Paris–Corrèze.
In June 2009, Fignon revealed that he was undergoing chemotherapy for metastatic cancer. He noted that early in his career he had dabbled with recreational drugs, amphetamines and cortisone, but did not believe they played a role in his illness. Amphetamine use during the criterium portion (late summer/early fall) of the cycling season was commonplace in the seventies and eighties. Fignon's cancer was diagnosed in April 2009 after metastatic tumors were found in his digestive system.
His funeral took place on 3 September 2010 at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, where he was later cremated.