Thirty years after winning the Tour de France for the third time, Greg LeMond is to receive the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest decoration available to civilians in the United States – after President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law a bill for the 59 year old to receive the honour.
The award is, according to Congress, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions,” and must be must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of the membership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
News website Madison.com reports that the bill to award the medal to LeMond was first introduced to the House of Representatives by Democrat Congressman Mike Thompson after he read Daniel de Visé’s biography of the rider, The Comeback: Greg LeMond, the True King of American Cycling, and a Legendary Tour de France (which received a 9/10 review here on road.cc).
The book centres on LeMond’s 1989 victory in the race over Laurent Fignon, sealed by just 8 seconds after the final day’s time trial from Versailles into Paris, a little over two years after he nearly died after he was shot in a hunting accident in California.
Reflecting on the award of the medal to LeMond, de Visé said: “I wrote 'The Comeback' because I thought Greg LeMond deserved to be a lot more famous. I felt his razor-thin victory at the 1989 Tour de France was the greatest comeback in American sports.
“I'm so glad the book reached Congressman Thompson, who made it his mission over the last two years to see that Greg finally reaped that recognition,” he added. “Mike Thompson did all the work. All I did was plant the seed.”
After Trump signed the Greg LeMond Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 into law on Friday, the White House said that it had been awarded “in recognition of his service to the Nation as an athlete, activist, role model, and community leader.”
Besides winning the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1990, LeMond won the road world championship in 1983 and 1989, and following his retirement for racing has been a vocal anti-doping campaigner.
He is not the only American to have stood on the top step of the podium on the Champs-Elysees at the end of the Tour de France – Lance Armstrong did so for seven years in succession from 1999 to 2005, as did Floyd Landis in 2006, but both were subsequently stripped of their titles for doping.
First awarded during the American Revolution by the then Continental Congress in 1776 to George Washington, fewer than 200 awards have been made in the 214 years since then, some of those to multiple recipients such as the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Military personnel and units, as well as foreign citizens – the latter including former UK prime minsters Sir Winston Churchill and Tony Blair, plus Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal – are eligible for the medal, as well as US civilians.
Among the latter to have been awarded the medal are the London-born entertainer Bob Hope, the civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks, and powered flight pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Few sportspeople have been awarded the honour, with LeMond following in the footsteps of the baseball players Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, golfers Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the boxer Joe Louis, and athlete Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.