having a book written about your life must be a flattering affair, always supposing the contents are generally favourable. because if an author has taken the trouble, and the publishers happy to print, we can only assume that the life led has been seen as worthy of tribute for posterity. not that it's happened to me, and nor is it ever likely to, but it must be a humbling experience, though i refer the reader to my original remark that one would hope nice things are being said.
though 'tis only a slight variation on the word, an autobiography changes everything, because not only does the author feel that his/her exploits are worth recording in print, but has presumably spent considerable time convincing a publisher that such is the case. i should explain that i am concerning myself with the cycling fraternity here; while i have little doubt that similar strictures would apply to other walks of life, judging by the shelves in waterstones, and the ages of some of the authors, dollar/pound signs are being viewed rather than that of any assumed literary contribution.
in short, i am ascribing a substantial degree of ego on behalf of the autobiographer, for even if one's exploits are warranted in print, there must surely be a sufficient level of self-confidence to carry through with many a sequential page.
laurent fignon will forever be more famous for losing the 1989 tour de france by eight seconds than for having won the tour at his first attempt, and followed it with a second in 1984. a quote decorates the back cover of this translation by william fotheringham: 'ah, i remember you: you're the guy who lost the tour de france by eight seconds!' 'no monsieur, i'm the guy who won it twice.'
laurent fignon has, on the basis of this reading, quite a substantial ego, but spends much of the book attempting to convince the reader that it is anything but. chapter one, rather dramatically, starts with those eight seconds (the exact title of the chapter); many of the remaining 36 chapters seek to overshadow that memory, a hard thing to do when the spectre of that tour loss seems to haunt fignon at every pedal stroke. significantly, that is not the only loss that fills the fignon psyche.
having enjoyed the 1982 giro d'italia, fignon returned in 1984 as reigning tour champion, and keen to add the pink jersey to his collection, but a cunning plot by the organisers, and a helicopter during the time trial conspired to make sure that francesco moser would wear pink in milan. according to fignon, he was poised to wrest the jersey from moser during the stelvio stage of that year's giro. citing poor weather and the likelihood of snow, the organisers re-routed the stage, cutting out the climb which was to have been fignon's coup de grace. the race came down to the final day's time trial, during which moser took well over two minutes out of fignon's time. according to the frenchman, during the contre la montre, the tv helicopter put paid to a race winning time;
...the pilot of the helicopter with the television cameras was particularly keen to do his job to the best of his ability by coming as close as he could to get pictures of me, even though he was almost mowing the number off my back with his rotor-blades.
'obviously, the turbulence he caused pushed enough wind at me to slow me down a fair bit.'
drawing on anecdotes from the biographies of others, a degree of insouciance on the part of race organisers to favour the home boy is not entirely unknown, so maybe, just maybe, i judge fignon too harshly. however, returning to those eight seconds; 'he was using a very special bike equipped with handlebar extensions with elbow rests... totally revolutionary but also strictly against the rules.' in the aftermath of this exceptionally narrow defeat, it seems that fignon's ego would not allow him to believe he could have been beaten. it couldn't just have been any superiority on the part of greg lemond; there must have been other demons at play.
it is hard for any professional cyclist, particularly within the last three decades, to write convincingly without at least paying lip service to the 'd' word, and here, on page 174 is an admission that almost passes under the radar. generally, aside from the acceptance of amphetamine use within the pro ranks, fignon claims either indifference or ignorance, but with reference to having been caught for illegal drug use at liege-bastogne-liege, a charge denied, fignon states the following; 'i would never have dreamed of taking a drug that might be detected on the day of a race'
to perform at this level must take a great deal of self belief, a state of mind that is likely just as fragile as it is strong, therefore much of what i take to be unadorned french ego at work, could just as easily be supreme self confidence. if you are able to live with phrases such as 'i felt strong and the pedals spun easily. i wasn't surprised to win the stage' coupled with 'hearing me come out with statements like this, a lot of people felt that i had become big headed. that was ridiculous.', there is a lot to be enjoyed in this book.
i, for one, was of the impression that fignon was referred to as the professor because of an advanced degree of further education. this assumption turns out to be false. however, one of his more astute business decisions, made with his ds, cyrille guimard, was to own the team and operate it on behalf of the sponsor. this is a format that still successfully exists to this day, but when fignon started his professional career, the sponsor was also the owner. for this alone, i should imagine a great number of cyclists and directeurs sportif are eternally grateful.
despite being written in 2009, and published in france as nous etions jeunes et insouciants the book concerns itself only with fignon's career and his subsequent business career which included the purchase of the paris-nice race. there is no mention of his current serious ilness. even in the latter chapters, having to subsequently to sell paris-nice to aso was, according to him, entirely due to shady dealings on behalf of amaury sports, who were reputedly put out that fignon had acquired the race in the first place. according to laurent, the squeeze was put on sponsors and stage villages alike to make life difficult both organisationally and financially.
if i had to condense this to one of those digested reads, it would likely appear as they were all out to get me.. that however, would be to devalue not only fignon's more than competent writing skills, but also the seamless translation of william fotheringham, for which we should be eternally grateful.
laurent fignon is undoubtedly one of the greats of the sport, and his contribution should never be undervalued. since none of us are him, it's all too easy to castigate the man as an egotist, in constant need of its massaging, with a bit of a paranoid streak. but if that is really fignon the man, then this is a valued testament. as a committed fan of the sport, you owe it to your bookcase to fill one of those blank slots with this volume.
posted wednesday 16 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................