Word came the other day that the U.S. House of Representatives had voted in late September to award Greg LeMond the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, intended for Americans “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”
I immediately thought of a morning four years ago, sitting in Kathy LeMond’s kitchen in Medina, as she described the derision, anguish, and ridicule visited on her family when her husband stepped forward, largely alone, to call out Lance Armstrong as a doper and a cheat. Armstrong, then a global marketing force, savaged Greg LeMond as a liar. Trek Bikes, at Armstrong’s behest, shut down his bike business. The Tour de France, which LeMond had won three times, excluded him from any race event.
The LeMonds retreated to Minnesota, to heal.
“We lost our reputation,” Kathy LeMond said that day, holding a steady, defiant gaze that is difficult to forget. “We lost our income. It was tough.”
Ultimately, of course, it was Armstrong who became the pariah, stripped of his Tour de France victories while Greg LeMond’s star and reputation again soared. Now in Tennessee building carbon bikes, the LeMonds declined last week to discuss the congressional honor, the latest step in Greg LeMond’s public redemption. Other athletes who have been awarded the medal include Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens.
The honor — approved on a voice vote in the House on Sept. 19 and sent to the Senate for its consideration — was the work of Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat. He’d briefly met LeMond once and said in an interview last week, “I’ve always believed that it’s important for people to get out and move, and bicycling is a great way to do that.”
Then he said he read “The Comeback,” Daniel De Vise’s harrowing and ultimately inspiring 2018 account of LeMond’s life.
“It just came together with that book,” Thompson said. “I wanted to do something. … What is important is that LeMond did the right thing. He saved the sport of cycling.”
Said LeMond, in a statement released by Thompson’s office: “I am truly humbled to be recognized for my career by the U.S. House of Representatives. Cycling changed my life for the better and I’ve been proud to help bring this great sport to so many across our nation. … I hope this award continues to bring cycling to many more as the sport has the potential to help everyone be healthier and more active.”
The LeMond bill was referred to the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, whose minority members include Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith. When Smith’s staff was asked last week about the bill’s prospects, it said simply there is no bill yet to discuss because the congressional medals require two-thirds of the Senate to cosponsor before consideration.
The Banking Committee chairman is Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. It might or might not be relevant that the League of American Bicyclists’ legislative profile of Crapo could find no bike-friendly issue that he supported. President Donald Trump, who would also have to approve the LeMond medal, has apparently been too distracted by other matters in recent days to address the issue.
Nonetheless, Thompson remains bullish on what would certainly be one of the more prominent public acknowledgments of the redemption of LeMond. Thompson said LeMond is “essentially the favorite son” of California (where he was born), Nevada (where he grew up), Minnesota (where he lived for many years) and Tennessee (where he lives now).
“I think there’ll be a lot support out there. All those states have senators.”
• The Sports & Fitness Industry Association recently reported that the number of children ages 6 to 17 who rode bicycles regularly — more than 25 times a year — decreased by more than a million since 2014. A reminder, then, that nonprofit Free Bikes 4 Kidz will be collecting gently used or new child or adult bikes from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at most Allina Health hospitals and clinics. FB4K has collected, repaired and given away more than 60,000 bikes to children since 2008.
• A cyclist last week comes across a large splay of broken glass scattered across both lanes of the Midtown Greenway. The glass looks as if it’s been there a while. The rider stops to kick as many chunks and shards off the asphalt as possible. Over the next 10 minutes, at least 25 riders whoosh by, some of them maddeningly close to the person trying to kick glass off the trail. No one stops to contribute to the cleanup. Best bike city, huh?
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. His column appears twice a month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.