from: Eric Salomon, Gerhard Zadroblick, and Laurent Fignon
what: Stage 21 of 1989 Giro d’Italia
where: La Spezia, Italy
Masts from the tower of a battleship over the port of La Spezia, Italy, which hosted the start of the Giro d’Italia’s 21st stage in 1989. This image was taken by famed sports photographer Robert Rieger. In the foreground, Team U’s Eric Salomon stood on his bike, while Gerhard Zadrobelic of Team 7-Eleven and Laurent Fignon, who is wearing the pink race leader jersey, sat in the background.
The 1989 Giro marked a milestone for two cycling giants: Greg Lemond and Vignon. For LeMond, it was a return to grand tour racing after the 1987 hunting accident that nearly ended his life. LeMond raced for the Belgian junior team ADR, who refused to pay him during the early months of the season. His financial struggles were exacerbated by his physical struggles. LeMond struggled early in the giro, losing 17 minutes to his rivals on stage 13. By the middle of the race, it was clear that LeMond wasn’t anywhere near his old level.
However, in the final stage of the race, a glimmer of LeMond’s victory came back. He finished second in a trial that spanned 54 kilometres, beating Fignon and others with ease. Little did LeMond know that this performance was a harbinger of what was to come in July when he won his third Tour de France title.
For Vignon, the 1989 motor race posed challenges, too. Having achieved massive results in his early twenties, by 1989, Fignon had gone five seasons without winning a Grand Tour. And while he claimed to win three Tour de France, Vignon had a bitter relationship with the Italian Grand Tour. During the 1984 Giro race, Fignon appeared to be the strongest rider, but finished second, close to Francesco Moser. Fignon has always blamed the loss on Italian officials, who made several strange decisions in the second half of the race that likely cost him the win. Fans famously pushed Moser to the mountaintops on the last climbing day of the race. A helicopter flew over Fignon during the solo time trial, blew him off with the wind.
There wasn’t the same level of drama in 1989. Fignon rode a calculating race, winning only one stage, and instead taking the lead in the high mountains. Throughout the second half, he wrestled with Italian jockey Flavio Gibboni and defending champion Andy Hampsten.
In the end, Fignon won. The victory shaped his dramatic battle with Le Monde later that year at the Tour de France, where Fignon lost by just 8 seconds on the final day. The 1989 Giro d’Italia proved to be the final Grand Tour victory of Venion’s career.