Seems a shame to resume posting with one about death but I couldn't let the passing of Laurent Fignon on Tuesday night go without recording something for posterity.
Fignon, with his ponytail, glasses and fixed, almost manic, stare was the winner of Le Tour in both 1983 and 1984 and he will be remembered as much for the 'one that got away. In 1989 he lost by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond in the final stage of that years race which was a time trial from Versailles to Paris, Fignon had begun the stage leading by 50 seconds, if ever there was an ocassion where a picture told a thousand words it was the image of Fignon crossing the line in Paris a spent man. One of the more bizarre theories that followed that stage, and ultimately the Tour loss, was that if Fignon had cut off his trademark ponytail the reduced drag would have meant he retained his lead, yellow jersey and joined the list of three times winners.
Back in 1983 nobody expected Fignon to win Le Tour, in fact he wasn't even expected to begin the race, it was after all only his second season as a professional. As if often the case in sport luck played a part in his selection for the Renault team, good luck on his part and bad luck on the part of cycling legend Bernard Hinault. Hinault was hoping to win his fifth tour but injury meant he couldn't take his part on the team and despite reservations on the part of the team management the 23 year old from Paris was given his place, the rest as they say is history.
In many respects Fignon was almost a stereotypical Frenchman in that he did his own thing, disliked the media intrusions during and after the race and often looked as if he wanted to start a fight with anybody he took a dislike to.
My final memory comes from this years Tour when Fignon was part of the TF1 coverage. A year after being diagnosed with cancer Fignon gave the impression, and not just to me as I discovered talking to fellow cycling enthusiasts in Paris this summer, of a man enjoying life, possibly knowing that the end was near. His commentaries and insights were proferred, not with the often barroom boorishness of some ex-professionals, with enthusiasm. He sounded as though he had a cigar in one hand and a glass of Courvoisier in the other.
Sorry to end this little tribute on a sour note but SKY's attitude to his death pissed me off and showed their general contempt for any sport in which they don't have a financial interest. Fignon's death didn't warrant a special report and for the first two hours after it was announced was not even considered important enough to merit more than a mention on their news tickertape service, the debate over whether or not Tottenham had secured the services of a journeyman Dutch footballer considered more important.