During my youth in Bogota, Laurent Fignon was constantly depicted as the arch-rival of Colombian cycling in the press. He was not depicted in that way strictly because of his victories over Colombians while on the bike, but mostly because of comments he would make to them personally, and about them in the European press. Many of these comments were heavily tinged with a racist slant, but like so many other things in life, they have been largely lost and forgotten in time. After all, only people in Colombia even remember Fignon in that light.
In the end, we have to put these things aside, as we remember that a family in France has lost a person whom they loved. Having lost someone to cancer myself, I'm aware of the pain that the disease causes all those involved. So even though I strongly disliked Fignon when I was a kid, I realize that he was loved by many, and that his accomplishments were numerous...so we should certainly remember him in that way.
Having said that, I thought it would be worthwhile to translate the comments made by retired Colombian cyclists that were published in the Colombian press yesterday, only because they show how differently he was viewed by those riders, and (perhaps) an entire nation.
Martin "Cochise" Rodrigez, who won stages at the Giro, competed in the Tour multiple times, and held the hour record, said the following in the newspaper El Tiempo:
"Of course, we are saddened by the passing of this great sports figure, even though he treated us very badly, and he was always critical of us. He degraded us in the press through his comments," declared "Cochise" Rodrigez.
"Fignon was a great cyclist, but he treated Colombians very badly, particularly Luis 'Lucho" Herrera'", said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez met Fignon when Colombian riders participated in the Tour for the first time.
"He was one of the ones who criticized our riders, he said we were drug addicts, and treated us as such [Fignon often mocked Colombian riders for the country's production of illegal drugs], but we still mourn the death of a great athlete."
"The truth is that as an athlete, he was amazing, but as a person he was mean spirited and disparaging. We as Colombians did nothing to him, all we ever did was show him that we too could compete at races like the Tour de France."
Fabio Parra, the only Colombian to ever make it to the Tour's podium, who won stages at the Tour and Vuelta had a slightly different take on Fignon, as reported in El Tiempo:
"I never really had a confrontation with him. The truth is that I didn't much care for him either way. We each went our own way, and I think eventually we got to the point were Fignon finally treated us with respect. He knew that our results spoke for themselves, because as we rode we showed him how good our form was. Eventually, we got to the point were the fights between us [Colombians] and him, were sorted out on the bike. I think that the way he was portrayed by the press, influenced the way he was viewed."Before Fignon's passing, Lucho Herrera (who Fignon accused of having bought his Vuelta a España victory) said:
"The way in which he was seen [in Colombia] was something he earned on his own, but it was also influenced by the Colombian press. They would ask him questions about details of Colombian cycling, things that were detail-oriented and complicated, and he would simply answer with the truth. I always thought that Fignon had a strong character, and he spoke the truth."
"Fignon was a true cyclist. Watching him do a time trial was simply spectacular, even though I saw the other side of his abilities. I saw him when he simply couldn't go, and he would be left as though he were anchored to the road. He lacked the ability to react in those cases, and had nothing left in him but to retire from a race"
"He always spoke badly of us, and always said that we were inferior them [the French/Europeans]"
Make of all these comments what you will. In the end, a family lost a beloved member, and many cycling fans lost a beloved hero.