Two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon died of cancer, according to France 2, the television station where he worked as a cycling analyst since 2006. He was 50.
Fignon won the Tour in 1983 and 1984 and was the last French winner before Bernard Hinault, who took the last of his five titles in 1985. Fignon continued to work for France 2 even after being diagnosed with cancer last year and covered last month’s race.
“He is a legend in France,” Cedric Vasseur, a former Tour de France rider, said by telephone. “It is a big surprise for me. I spoke to him at the Tour last month and although his voice sounded croaky, he looked well.”
Fignon’s rivalry with Hinault dominated the Tour in the mid-1980s. Sporting floppy blonde hair and glasses, Fignon gave the working-class sport of cycling a more intelligent image in France, according to Vasseur.
In 1989, Fignon finished the three-week Tour de France eight seconds behind winner Greg LeMond in the tightest finish in the history of the race. Fignon won the Giro d’Italia, Italy’s biggest race, the same year.
“I felt bad for him because he won the Tour too” that year, LeMond told France24 television today. “He was complex -- sometimes arrogant, sometimes angry -- but true to his emotions.”
During the 1989 Tour, Fignon spat into the lens of a cameraman who asked for an interview and he would often refuse to smile for photographs.
In Spain, Television Espanola opened its coverage of the Vuelta a Espana race today with images of Fignon winning an event accompanied by a piano lament. Pedro Delgado, the 1988 Tour champion, said Fignon was a “rebel” who made life difficult for rivals.
“He had a lot of guts,” Delgado said. “He attacked at the feeding stations and at the finishing line.”
Fignon confessed to taking amphetamines and cortisone as a rider in his autobiography, “We Were Young and Carefree,” France 2 said on its website, adding he didn’t make a link with the banned drugs and his cancer.
He spoke publicly of his illness in the last two years, allowing L’Equipe magazine to accompany him to hospital visits and broadcast commitments during the 2009 Tour de France.