Fignon’s wife pays tribute as double Tour winner laid to rest
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Friday, September 03, 2010

Fignon’s wife pays tribute as double Tour winner laid to rest

by Conal Andrews at 8:44 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Special memories of the French champion

Laurent FignonOn the day of his funeral in Paris, Laurent Fignon’s wife Valerie has paid a warm tribute to the man she was in a relationship with for ten years, describing him as a brave person who fought until the end, and who remained hopeful that he could beat cancer.

The double Tour de France winner passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday in Paris, having fought the disease for over a year.

“I do not know the champion. I met him after. I really feel that there were two Laurent Fignons,” she said, in a moving interview with Le Parisien. “The cyclist, and the person from the life after. He was natural, he was loving, generous. And grumpy, everyone knows that. He was a good husband, someone you could really count on. I spent very, very good moments with him. I will miss him.”

Fignon was known as a fighter on the bike, winning the 1983 and 1984 Tours, dominating the 1989 Giro d’Italia and finishing as runner-up to Greg LeMond later that summer in what was the closest Tour de France in history. After announcing he had cancer in June 2009, he used that same fighting spirit to battle the disease. He continued to do his Tour de France consultancy work with France Television, and never gave up.

“He was quite fatalistic [after his diagnosis],” she remembered. “It was hard to take. For me too, it was harder for me to get over it. But he said, 'We will survive. There are plenty of people who recover.' He was hopeful all the time, all the time, all the time. This year and a half when he was ill, there were moments of sadness, moments of despair, moments of happiness...

“I kept my job, even if there has been a difficult period at the beginning. It did me good to get out of the house, take the air. And he could rest. But it was very difficult. I was very unhappy. He was brave. He believed until the end.”

Fignon worked hard during the Tour, appearing in fine form. However it was the last surge of a great champion, someone summoning up their energies to once again complete the race.

“On this Tour, he was in great shape,” she said. “The first was tough for him. Because, bizarrely, he was less healthy than this year. He had a lot of fatigue and stress.

“[This year], he told me on the phone: 'I'm in great shape, there is no need to return, I will continue!' And he was happy to do so. It was a form of therapy. He felt himself carried along, he received a lot of messages of affection and support. It carried him.”

When asked, she admitted that she was worried it would wear him out. “But he had a strong character,” she smiled in response, “he told me not to worry.”

Fignon suddenly fell ill after the Tour, having breathing difficulties and being hospitalised. He left after tests and went to the European athletic championships in Barcelona, but then worsened again afterwards and was readmitted to hospital. It was to be his final battle.

Valerie Fignon will miss her husband greatly, of course, but said that she has some very good memories from their final months together. “Christmas!,” she said, when asked for the highlights. “Normally we did it with my family, but this time we decided to bring everyone with us to Paris. It was a beautiful moment. And then, we had a nice little trip to Corsica just before the Tour. To Provence, as well. We also went to the United States this spring, to New York, but that was more to take medical advice.”

Others will have different memories; a man who showed warmth, passion and intelligence as a commentator, and, in his earlier life, as a rider who battled like a real warrior on the bike. Back long and flat, John Lennon glasses perched on his nose, blonde ponytail fluttering in the wind.

He was, and remains, one of the strongest characters of the peloton in the past 30 years.

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