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08/31/2010

Laurent Fignon, Tour de France champion, dies at 50

August 31, 2010 |  7:46 am

Pignon Laurent Fignon, a Frenchman who twice won the Tour de France but was defeated by American rival Greg LeMond in arguably the event's greatest race, has died. He was 50.

Fignon died Tuesday of cancer, the state-backed France 2 TV network reported. Fignon, who had worked as a television commentator for France 2 for the last five years, announced in June that he had advanced cancer of the digestive system and was undergoing chemotherapy.

The battle between Fignon and LeMond in the 1989 Tour de France produced the narrowest winning result in the history of the world's most famous cycling race: 8 seconds.

"He was a great champion who used a combination of talent and will to win the Tour de France twice," David Lappartient, president of the French Cycling Federation, said Tuesday. "He had an iron will and was also a very intelligent man."

Born Aug. 12, 1960, the blond, bespectacled Fignon excelled at sports as a child and took up cycling because his friends did — initially against the wishes of his parents, who disliked that amateur cycling races took place on Sundays, which they considered to be a day for family activities.

Despite his reputation for being well-read and his nickname "The Professor," Fignon dropped out of college. He competed in cycling races while completing his army service.

Fignon won the Tour de France on his first attempt in 1983, just his second year as a professional, seizing the opportunity presented by the absence of four-time winner and defending champion Bernard Hinault. He also won in 1984.

Though feted by the cycling-mad French, Fignon never achieved the public adoration of Hinault, and footage of him spitting at journalists in 1989 cemented his reputation for testiness and a certain arrogance. He was awarded the "Prix Citron" for the least likable rider after the 1989 Tour.

In 2006, Fignon opened a hotel complex in the foothills of the Pyrenees as Le Centre Laurent Fignon, offering enthusiastic amateur cyclists guided rides up the Col du Tourmalet and other famed Tour de France climbs.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Laurent Fignon in 1989. Credit: Reuters

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