Nonetheless, his performance truly degraded once EPO got a foothold, and he seemingly missed that train and subsequently retired, as the sport boosted past. That era slammed shut like a collapsed vein..."
Writing here, my intent isn't to put words into the mouth of Greg LeMond, so to speak, but rather, to share my understanding of LeMond's knowledge of what was going on around him at various points in my career, based on quotes attributed to him in print and from our own discussions...these are personal opinions and beliefs - not absolute truth.
That said, I believe that LeMond's awareness of doping is far more nuanced than that of a "simple kid from Nevada." Perhaps at the beginning of his career he had limited knowledge of the full menu of PED's in-use at the time, but in the final years he was certainly aware of what was being done. In fact, it formed the basis for his decision to retire - the realization that, regardless of the degree to which he thought his own condition was hampered by effects of the hunting accident (something he'd give less emphasis to a decade after leaving the sport), there was undoubtedly sophisticated, dangerous doping going on all-around him, and it allowed previously anonymous riders - like Chiappucci - to become pseudo-thoroughbreds.
I don't think I'm breaking any confidence in saying that in the present day, LeMond exhibits a clear retrospective understanding of what was happening around him during the 91-94 years.
For the record, I think Armstrong was an equally gifted and driven rider - though one of different (one-day) qualities. Just as he was a teenage triathlete phenom, beating the best pros of the era when he was just a punk from Texas, LeMond was a miracle of nature crafted by some higher power to be the best natural stage racer of the times. I don't have a copy of LeMond's "Complete Book of Bicycling" or I'd be able to quote the incident exactly, but as a teenager sick with the flu or something, I believe he was the equal of the US's best elite rider of the time, John Howard.
Men's Journal, "In a tough race up Mount Tamalpais, outside San Francisco, 15-year-old Greg placed second only to the great George Mount, who’d finished sixth a few months earlier in the 1976 Olympics."
The rider you are when you're 19 or 20, is the rider you'll be when you're 28, 29, 30...thus, someone destined to win the Tour at the peak of their career will be competitive in - or at least show his aptitude for - that event and ones like it, from earliest days. So, again, we see LeMond win the Dauphine in '83, then third in the Tour in '84, second in '85, and finally first in '86 (aged 25). Likewise, Fignon, born in 1960, wins the Tour in 1983 and '84, and took 7th in '87, the next year he'd finished the race.
Phil Anderson (himself no slouch as a pro - 5th in the '82 Tour at age 24 and 5th again in '85), is on record saying, "He was a one-day rider. I thought he could never, ever, win the Tour de France. Even he wouldn't have thought he could have won the Tour. He couldn't climb and he couldn't time trial, two things you have to do to win the Tour."
It's not like it takes rocket science to figure out who is going to be good at the world's toughest multi-day bike race...contenders can spot future competitors and threats based on their own experiences and observations.
Bjarne Riis being the dominant Tour rider in '96 after having been completely ordinary in '89 and '91, when he was 95th and 107th overall, respectively? Oh snap! On May 25, 2007, Riis issued a press release stating that he had made "mistakes" in the past, upon which he elaborated in a press conference, where he confessed to taking EPO, growth hormone and cortisone for five years, from 1993 to 1998, including during his victory in the 1996 Tour de France. Without EPO, Bjarne = capable professional but anonymous GT rider, barely cracking the top-100 in the Tour in '89 while LeMond was plying his trade as the greatest GT rider of the modern era, and a meager 107th in '91 - as Greg still delivered a top-10 overall (7th). Ahhh, but with EPO, the Great Dane finished 5th in 1993, 14th in 1994, and 3rd in 1995, before being 'Champion' in 1996.
In an EPO/blood-transfusion-free-world, you're born capable of winning the Tour, or you're not. L.A. was not. But he was born to be a great pro. Just not a GT contender. Maybe his ego couldn't suffer knowing that he would never match LeMond in the "World's Most Important Bike Race." Who knows. Who cares? While Roche and Delgado both doped, neither needed the kind of program followed by riders like Riis, and probably also by Pantani, Armstrong, and even Indurain - riders who were not naturally capable of winning GT's, but who, with the right medical program, could realize an extra 5-10% of sustainable power output that was enough to give a margin of victory over a three-week race (augmented by the decreased recovery periods supposedly seen in EPO-boosted athletes).
What's that? Am I saying that I believe it highly likely that Indurain doped? Yes, I believe he most likely did, though that is merely my opinion and I have no direct knowledge of any illicit activities on the part of the man from Pamplona. But, his Tour pedigree is as suspicious as Riis's, and its elevation dovetails with the introduction of EPO into the European peloton:
1985: Withdrew, 4th stage
1986: Withdrew, 8th stage
Banesto's own Thomas Davy testified under oath that during his tenure with the squad (1995-6), there was an organized doping program that included EPO. "In Banesto," he said, "There was a system of doping with medical supervision." Clearly that is not a charge or accusation against Indurain, but it's hard-to-ignore circumstantial evidence.
Jan Ullrich, confirmed as a client of Operation Puerto's Dr. Fuentes through the DNA matching of nine bags of stored blood, may have been a LeMond-like natural talent, but he had the misfortune (from the perspective of one who might value the opportunity to compete, and win, in professional cycling without having to manipulate one's own blood) to enter the pro ranks at the height of the EPO epidemic, and to debut in the Tour in 1996 at the side of an incredibly-successful doper, while later having to compete against the most successful doping cyclist of all-time: L.A.
[Funny aside: I didn't know that The Onion weighed-in on Ullrich's trust issues with blood.]
At 1993, at age 19, Ullrich won the World Championship as an amateur (you should watch the finish here - I'd never seen the footage before, either...probably the best quote by a commentator that I've ever heard: "He's got a teammate up in front so why the hell should he work at all?!" - regarding a Latvian in the break with Ullrich and several others).
Jan was 3rd in the time trial at World's in '94 behind Chris Boardman and the thoroughly anonymous Andrea Chiurato of Italy.
In 1995, while still only a 21 year-old, Ullrich became the elite German national time trial champion. That's elite, not U23...
From 1996 onward, well, it's all history (and innuendo, accusation, claim, counter-claim, denial, blah blah blah...)
LeMond = clean, dope-free, natural talent and class
L.A. = naturally talented professional cyclist and apparent sociopath, so motivated to win the Tour de France and enshrine himself in the pantheon of cycling greats at the expense of his competitors - and compatriots - that he purportedly threatened to generate false accusations of EPO-use against Greg LeMond in order to stanch his criticism of the Texan's association with Dr. Michele Ferrari - accused by Filippo Simeoni of managing his doping program.
I'll give L.A. credit for protecting himself by linking the fortunes of so many individuals and organizations to his own fate, thereby creating a determined network of defenders. I think it