Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A different Laurent Fignon?


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 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."

"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"

Before Fignon's passing, Lucho Herrera (who Fignon accused of having bought his Vuelta a España victory) said:

"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.


  1. Interesting post - something I knew nothing about. Plus one to you for writing something much more interesting than the majority of the cycling press!

    Having said that, perhaps sports men and women are often seen in a much better light than 'normal' individuals simply for their athletic ability. George Best the alcoholic, Tiger Woods the adulterer, Lance Armstrong the...well probably the less said about that the better!

  2. The way these guys have responded to the death of someone who treated them so poorly speaks volumes of their great character. And your words are appropriately tempered, thanks for getting the translations and posting them.

  3. I am colombian and remember clearly that Laurent Fignon was critical and mildly racist to colombian cyclists that participated in european races.

  4. ditto what my brother said. everytime he came up in conversation thru the years, i was the only one whohad anything negative about the man. it's like people never heard (or chose to forget) about what he said. then when his book came out, i guess no one bothered to read the part when he was totally condescending to colombians and accused tem of buying the 87 vuelta? watch that race again! i did recently and the only person who was anywhere near herrera that vuelta was sean kelly and he NEVER said anything like that. makes you wonder.

    still, im really bummed about it. he was only 50! like lucho said, we lost someone to cancer ourselves and i can tell you this: cancer fucken sucks!

  5. Wow, thanks for sharing this with us all! I agree that the comments were very mild and appropriate.

    And I'd say that the press use to incite and aggravate polemic answers once they know someone has some particular point of view (I'm not saying that was the case and this does not changes the meaning of those comments).

    May he rest in peace.

  6. A fair portrait. I do not believe that you can never speak ill of the dead. Amazing how death can artificially raise one's character. Look at all the folks that want to rush George Steinbrenner into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

  7. Jefe, my dad always said: "There's no such thing as an ugly bride or a bad dead person."

    and about george best, he was AWESOME! his infamous “I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted” quote is simply brilliant!

  8. Nice post, but one thought: Fignon was not the only European saying this stuff, right? I seem to recall it being more of a cultural bias from Northern Euros, with other riders (like, Hinault, perhaps?) voicing similar sentiments.

  9. Yes, Skullkrusher. The key adjective there is "infamous." Everyone loves a colorful rouge, but we should not confuse that with good character.

  10. Thanks for the different perspective. I was unaware of this side of Fignon, makes me want to find a copy of his biography. While it does not take away from his accomplishments as a racer. His humanism may not have been up to the same level.

  11. Lucho,

    GIven the last two posts, you'll never breech the top ten of cycling bloggers. You're too decent. Kudos.

  12. I've seen both ugly brides and bad dead people.

  13. The other one that people say doesn't/shouldn't exist is an ugly baby. You should always say that they're beautiful...but that's just not the case. My cousin Paolo was so ugly (so the story goes) that when he was born, my aunt said to put him back him, because he was clearly not ready.

  14. jim from the other day a few weeks ago that wasn't the other JimSeptember 2, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    I was wondering if you would post about this.
    Well done.

  15. No deserves to die young from cancer. My brother in law is in chemo right now, and it is a tough tough horrible thing to see people go through it. He will be fine, but I can't even think of those who don't make it.

    That being said, I always thought he was the epidome of french riders at that time. He was amazing at times on a bike, especially in the first half of the eighties, but in the second half I always thought he was a doper with the way he would have full gas and no gas at races. Lemond crossing that line was incredible to me then. He, like Hinault, was a dick to those none French.

    I am also pretty amused at those using the term "mildy racist", it reminds me of when I call my neighbors' kids "semi-feral".

    I am waiting for someone to write about the Ruskies intrance into cycling , I can't ever find anything about their early all USSR team. Was that my imagination?

    Lucho, you ever get a saddle you like?

  16. I saw a VERY ugly bride once: Your momma!!

  17. Matt,

    Best wishes to your brother in law, for what it's worth, but also best wishes to all of you who are around him. it's tough for you also.

    "mildly racist" is a way to soften a statement i suppose.

    saddles, yes i did. thank you for remembering. i bought a used Specialized Toupe 130. it pretty much has no padding at all, but it works. it was used, so i got it cheap (thirty dollars), and i'm now torn about the fact that i should probably buy other ones for my other bikes (perhaps the model with a tiny bit of padding) but they are expensive, and seldom seen on ebay used. oh well. on my commuter, i ahve a selle italia gel flow something or other that is working. it came with a bike that i bought for my wife used. for shorter distances, it seems to be doing the trick.

  18. Another great post Lucho.

    As soon as I read of Fignon's death I thought about your previous posts about his racist underbelly. I felt kinds bad thinking ill of someone who had just died, but racism is never acceptable.
    The fact that Fignon never publicly (to my knowledge at least) apologised for his actions is a real shame. I had hoped that as he matured he might have tried to make amends for his past actions.
    A great rider, but also a racist, not too dis-similar to Hinault, I believe.

  19. Check out my new blog: Racist Cyclist. Masthead posts include, "Racist Tactics in the Peloton", "Fat Rich White Week-end Warriors: Top Ten Racist Tips for the Bike Path" as well as listings of local "Hate Rides".

    By the way jackseph, I suggest "his racist taint" for "underbelly". Get it?

  20. My dad died within a day or two of Fignon of cancer. Bloody awful for all involved.
    Thanks for the post Lucho
    Death Race

  21. Damn, Death Race, my condolences to you and your family. Just watched a co-worker deal with the same situation. Take care.

  22. Matt, Fignon talks a bit about his up and down form in his biography (We Were Young and Carefree) which also has some great anecdotes about Hinault, incidentally.

    db, I think you have the nail on the head there with your earlier comment on cultural bias - ISTR Kimmage talks about the way Colombian riders were regarded in "Rough Ride" as well.


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