Not so long ago I read Laurent Fignon’s autobiography (“Nous Etions Jeunes et Insouciants” - we were young and carefree), and i really enjoyed his story of his first victory at MSR, so i thought i’d make an attempt at sharing that with you (75 words yet?, yes - yay!). So just to give credit where credit's due, all the info here came from the book.
Fignon had an incredible start to his professional career, winning the ’83 Tour de France just a couple of years after turning pro. And to hear him describe it, it was easy and almost without effort! But i thought you were supposed to suffer in cycling and it was always incredibly difficult and and and ... No, it was easy. Easy i tell you. And mind you, this before the days of EPO. He won the Tdf again in ’84 along with a 2nd place and mountains jersey in the Giro. And second place only because the organizers cut the Stelvio out of the race at the last minute - ostensibly due to avalanche hazard, but this handed the win to the Italian Moser. Ha, take that, friggin foreigners!
more, much more, below the jump thingy (and if ya get bored and wanna get straight to msr, it's down there somewhere)
So what’s your point yeehoo?? What’s this got to do with MSR? The point is, dude, that Fignon got his career off to this incredible start and then suffered an ankle injury - i mean really just a stupid ankle injury! Well but then he had to have surgery and then he was off the bike for a long time and well, he just had a hell of a time ever getting his mojo back. He couldn’t get in form, it wasn’t fun anymore, he couldn’t get that whole jeune et insouciant thing going again, and then one season he was even brought down for months when he finally discovered he had big ol’ stinking like 60 cm long tapeworm in his stomach. L’ouch! Etc, etc. beaucoup du problèms.
Then one bright and sunny day along about the end of 1987, his trainer, Alain Gallopin, said to him, “Laurent, dude, you could win this Milan San Remo thing.” Laurent thought he was nuts of course, he was all like, “Dude, from the start of my career, i’ve always thought i had a shot at winning La Fleche (which, ahem, by this time, i already have, thank you very much), Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but never ever never ever have i thought i could win down there on the Riviera.” (wow, that sorta rhymes! ya listenin seahorse? - i’m writin poultry here - who’d a thunk it?)
But Gallopin, who’d come to know Laurent’s strengths and faults perfectly, foresaw everything and just wouldn’t give up on the idea. He saw that Fignon needed lots of kilometers before his “physique” could really express itself (“pour que mon physique puisse s’exprimer vraiment”). MSR with its almost 300 kms, plus the need for an extra punch at the end on the Poggio - well Gallopin kept repeating “C’est pour toi, crois moi.” (It’s for you, believe me. - see, french is easy - and fun)
So anyhow, Fignon had just had about enough of this not being able to come back and find his old form and stuff, so, just after Paris-Nice he and Gallopin decided to try out a radical new training plan. Overcompensation. Simply put, it consisted of exhausting yourself 72 hours before a big race. The idea is that the body burns all it’s reserves during the over-hard training session, then it’ll overreact to produce what it needs again - you know all those physioligical chemical things that your body needs to win races.
So he had only 6 days between Paris-Nice and Milan San Remo. So he did some easy rolling for a couple of days and then on Wednesday, he rode 120 kms over to Gallopin’s place. Had some orange juice and a piece of flan. Then went back out for another 100km. Gallopin in the Derny, Fignon behind. Faster and faster, drooling speed, then the last 35 km, absolutely at his limits and finished with a fabulous sprint - didn’t even feel his legs.
“Le plaisir était là. Revenu. Quelque chose se passait dans ma tête...” - The pleasure was there. Returned. Something happened in my head...
So, everyone wake up, we’re almost to MSR!! So Fignon goes to Milan and by chance is the first one to sign in - “Because i’m going to win” he tosses out to the organizers. Ah, he was starting to feel loose and relaxed again - like in the good old days.
So the key to winning is patience and punch. You can only attack once, on the Poggio. “Un seul coup: le bon ou le mauvais, telle est la règle de Milan-San Remo.” - One shot, good or bad, that’s the way of the Milan-San Remo.
So, as planned, he stayed at the back of the peloton. He hated it, it was totally against his nature. He couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on at the front. About two-thirds of the way through the race though, he thought to himself, “Mince, je me balade...” - Man, i’m just cruising. “It was fabulous and I’m obliged to say that, except on the Poggio, my legs never hurt once all day. That hadn’t happened to me in a really long time...” “Dans le Turchino, je fumais le pipe. (ha!) Dans le Capo Berta, là ou l’on peut tout perdre aussi, je montais comme dans un rêve. Tellement que, à un moment, j’ai pensé très fort: ‘Je vais gagner.’ ” - translation: “On the Turchino, i smoked the pipe. On the Capo Berta, there where you can also lose everything, i climbed like a dream. Such that, at one moment, i thought very strongly: ‘I’m going to win.’ “
The dutch team PDM, had what it took to put fear into opponents.: Van der Poel, Alcala, Rooks, Theunisse. The four of them were there at the front of the peloton, at their posts. At the foot of the Poggio, (now in his words for a good while) “i was placed pretty-well, although not great. During the race, i had said to my friend, Sean Kelly: ‘I’m planning on taking off strong on the Poggio. If i fail, i’ll take you to the sprint.’ Since ’83 or ’84, i had formed an old relationship of trust and understanding with the irishman, a loyal man who never counted his efforts for debts of honor. We liked each other a lot and we stifled all-comers with our common efforts. So, on the first few hundred meters of the Poggio, Kelly came up to where i was and said to me:
‘You have to go, Laurent!’ I hadn’t asked anything of him, but this irishman decidedly showed his honor at all times... I didn’t reflect on it, i just immediately followed him. And fortunately. I had hardly come back to the front of the peloton when PDM engaged. Full force. With bad intent. Kelly had saved the day for me.
"For about 3 kms everyone suffered beaucoup. I waited patiently. Not knowing too well if an opportunity would present itself. Suddenly, i didn’t feel any more pain in my legs: as if i’d had just mounted the bike minutes before. In those kinds of moments, i never lost my nerve. I waited, calmly. The pace was very fast, so much so that, when we came to the place where the profile showed some higher percentage gradients and where i had planned to make my final blow, i started to doubt whether i’d be able to place my attack. The window was very limited, not much more than 150 meters. But when it came to the most delicate part of the Poggio, Theunisse, who was leading the grand train, started to weaken a little, very slightly. It was undoubtedly imperceptible on the television, but it was plenty sufficient for me.
"Again i didn’t reflect on it. I took the gap that was offered me between a stone wall and the dutchman, i stood on the pedals, and put all my weight of all my years of rage and sacrifice. I waited impatiently for this moment and i felt that it had to be a massive attack. Kelly, there on my wheel, made the play and caused the break... I was in the 53x15. I was thus under the persuasion that i was alone but to my surprise there i saw the young Maurizio Fondriest. I asked myself how he managed to get there, this guy. But i had no fear of him, not for a second. ...”
Fignon goes on to say they had the race won when they came to the last kilometer. And that we found that Fondriest would be faster than Fignon later in his career, but at this point he was still young. At 300 meters, Fignon knew himself perfectly and felt almost unbeatable head to head. He launched his sprint from very far and at about 100 meters from the line Fondriest cracked.
One last direct quote translation to finish up:
“My god. It was done... I don’t remember anything. But witnesses have told me that i cried out with joy. A cry that came from down through the ages. A cry almost savage, according to some. Gallopin was right. First of all to convince me. Then to believe. When we know a racer like Moreno Argentin never won this race ... it’s incredible.”
Well i should probably sum up and all, but damn i’m tired. I will say though, that this did seem to get him back on track. His near Giro-Tour double with the 8 second loss to Lemond and his damned aerobars followed the next year. Imagine missing one Giro-Tour double due to race organizers castrating the main climb, and another to a technical innovation. Anyway all the best to Laurent Fignon in his battle with cancer.