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Page last updated at 12:07 GMT, Tuesday, 31 August 2010 13:07 UK

Tour de France legend Laurent Fignon dies aged 50

Laurent Fignon
Fignon lost the Tour by eight seconds from Greg LeMond in 1989

Two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon has died at the age of 50 following a battle with cancer.

The Frenchman won the Tour in 1983 and 1984 and was second in 1989 when he lost by eight seconds, the smallest margin in the history of the race.

Fignon achieved 76 victories in his career, winning the Milan-San Remo twice and the Giro d'Italia in 1989.

He announced in June 2009 that he had advanced cancer of the digestive system and was undergoing chemotherapy.

As a consultant with the France 2 television channel, he was present at the 2010 Tour despite his illness.

606: DEBATE

He passed away at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris and his wife, Valerie Fignon, announced his death through a hospital statement on Tuesday.

Fignon's first victory in the Tour in 1983 was aided by the fall of leader Pascal Simon, but Fignon showed the win was no fluke by going on to win five stages and the race the following year.

The 1989 race, when his American rival Greg LeMond overcame a huge deficit on the final stage time trial to claim outright victory, was arguably the most thrilling in Tour history.

For three weeks they dogged each other, the leader's yellow jersey passing back and forth between them. Finally, with only the last-day time-trial to go, Fignon had amassed a 50-second lead that appeared decisive.

But LeMond, riding with an aerodynamic helmet and new-style triathlon handlebars that Fignon maintained were illegal, set a blistering pace - the fastest full-length time-trial stage ever ridden at the time.

Fignon rode last, using traditional handlebars and with his ponytail blowing in the wind. He gave everything he had, collapsing to the ground after crossing the finishing line. But it was not enough.

"The cyclist who doesn't know how to lose cannot become a champion... but to lose like that, on the last day, with such a small gap, and principally because of handlebars that were banned under the rules, no, that was too much for one man," Fignon said in his autobiography 'We Were Young and Carefree,' published last year.

In the book, Fignon also admitted to doping, describing drug-taking in the 1980s as widespread but not organised and often recreational rather than performance-enhancing.

He said doping in cycling was revolutionised by the arrival of the blood-booster EPO in the early 1990s.

Fignon said he refused to take it - and retired from competition in 1993 when he realised that mediocre riders were now keeping up with him.

"He was a great champion who used a combination of talent and will to win the Tour de France twice," said David Lappartient, president of the French Cycling Federation.

"He had an iron will, and was also a very intelligent man."

Marc Madiot, Francaise des Jeux team manager and a former team-mate of Fignon's, added: "The guy was a real character, both on and off his bike. Hats off to him."



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