The 1990 Tour: Lessons in grit, perseverance and determination
Updated: Jul 14, 2021
Grit: Firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.
Sepp Kuss, a native of Colorado riding for the Jumbo-Visma, team finally gave the USA its first Tour stage win in a decade as he soloed home in Andorra on Sunday, July 11. His victory made me think back to the 1990 Tour de France, which was won by another American – Greg LeMond – who actually captured the overall lead that year without winning a single stage.
LeMond is the only official American winner of the Tour, and many people know about his 1986 win against mentor/rival Bernard Hinault and his win in 1989 by a mere 8 seconds after coming back from nearly dying in a shooting accident in 1987. Both of those Tour wins were amazing and required a tremendous amount of grit as that term is defined above.
Not nearly as many people know about LeMond’s win in 1990. Yet, I think that victory is so important because it shows the power of grit in a different way. The following is an extremely brief summary of what happened that year.
In the first stage, a powerful breakaway group that included LeMond's teammate Ronan Pensec arrived at the finish more than 9 minutes ahead of the pack. Also in that break was Italian rider Claudio Chiappucci, who took the lead later in the race from Pensec and proved to be a tenacious Yellow Jersey holder. LeMond chipped away at the time gap each following day until he captured the lead in the stage 20 individual time trial and wore yellow into Paris.
In other words, after falling behind early LeMond trusted his teammates, his skill and his bike racing knowledge to whittle down that early deficit until he moved into the lead at the very end of the race. He never won a single stage, but his tactics were nearly perfect in getting to Paris in first place overall.
Reflecting back on his three Tour wins, LeMond himself had this to say during an interview back in 2010:
“1990 was the most satisfying of my Tour wins. 1989 was exciting, 1986 was hard emotionally, but 1990 was the one I enjoyed the most. It was the first time I’d ridden with a proper team around me — in 1986 my team mostly rode against me and in 1989 my team was very weak … I wasn’t on top form, but I was confident. If Fignon had been on form, or if I’d been racing against myself from 1989, it would have been difficult. But it was a strange Tour — it was won on tactics, and I didn’t have to be at 100 percent.”
What can you learn from this?
I think there are a number of lessons to learn from LeMond’s 1990 tour; here are three that stand out to me.
The power of grit. Set your goals, believe in yourself and keep grinding away until you get there. All three of LeMond's Tour wins had him coming from behind in dramatic fashion to win against heavy odds.
Trust your team. When you have a strong team, trust them to have your back. LeMond was almost riding on his own in 1989, but played a team game in 1990.
A “win” doesn’t have to be flashy. Some riders criticized LeMond for not winning a stage and riding from behind in 1990. Yet, do style points really matter? At the end of the day, his goal of a Tour win was accomplished, and LeMond certainly reaped many financial rewards and became one of only six riders to win three or more tours. That year also marked some pretty incredible endorsement deals for LeMond, including this mind-blowing Taco Bell commercial.
More on LeMond's Tour wins
There is an excellent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on LeMond's first tour win. Here is the trailer.
Watching the end of the 1989 tour never gets old. 8 seconds!
In-depth article: Classic races: 1990 Tour de France