Laurent Fignon dies aged 50

Former Tour de France winner loses battle with cancer

Tributes were paid on Tuesday to former two-time Tour de France winner Laurent Fignon who died following a battle with cancer.

The French rider, who had been suffering from cancer of the digestive system, passed away in the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris at the age of 50 years.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed "an extraordinary and exceptional champion who will forever go down in the history of the Tour de France, in French cycling."

Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984, and was runner-up in 1989 when he lost by just eight seconds, the smallest margin in the history of the race, to American Greg LeMond.

LeMond remembered "one of the greater champions, who was recognised more for his loss in the (1989) Tour de France than his first two victories".

"It's a really sad day. I see him as one of the great riders who was hampered by injuries. He had a very, very big talent -- much more than anyone recognised," LeMond told France 24 television.

"We were also team-mates, competitors, but also friends," said the three-time Tour de France champion. "The saddest thing for me is that for the rest of his career he said he won two Tours de France, when in reality we both could have won that race."

Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, himself a survivor of testicular cancer, hailed a "legendary cyclist".

"Just woke to the news that Laurent Fignon has passed on. He was a dear friend and a legendary cyclist. We will miss you, Laurent," the American wrote via social networking site Twitter.

Compatriot Bernard Hinault, a five-time Tour winner, said he was "deeply moved" by the death of his former team-mate Fignon.

"He was a fighter, he fought for victory as I did, but we always had an honest rivalry. There again (faced with illness) he fought but he did not win," Hinault told AFP.

"I only have good memories of him. Even if he was a combative rival on the bike, we shared a lot of good times. I always saw him happy with a joie de vivre even in the toughest of times."

Fignon made his professional debut in 1982 in Hinault's Renault team, helping his team-mate win the Tour of Italy in 1982 and Tour of Spain in 1983. Fignon (1983, 1984) and Hinault (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985) were the last two French winners of the Tour de France.

Fignon achieved 76 victories during his career, which was later overshadowed by positive tests for illegal substances twice in the late 1980s.

In his autobiography, We Were Young and Carefree, Fignon admitted taking amphetamines and cortisone but did not establish a direct link with his cancer.

"In those days everyone was doing it," he explained in the book. "But it is impossible to know to what extent doping harms you.

"Whether those who lived through 1998, when a lot of extreme things happened, will get cancer after 10 or 20 years, I really can't say."

His first victory in the world's most famous cycling race in 1983 was helped by the fall of the yellow jersey rider Pascal Simon, but he showed the win was no fluke by going on to win five stages and the race the following year.

He showed his skill in all categories -- the classics and the road races -- winning the prestigious Milan-Sanremo twice before finally claiming the Tour of Italy in 1989, five years after finishing runner-up.

A consultant with France Television, he commentated on the Tour de France in 2009 and 2010 despite the treatment he was receiving.

Fignon after winning the 1983 Tour de France

Bio - Laurent Fignon

Date of birth: August 12, 1960

Place of birth: Paris, France

Professional career: 1982-1993

Major victories

One-day races:

  • French National Road Race Championships, 1984
  • Milan-Sanremo, 1988 and 1989
  • La Fleche Wallonne, 1986
  • Morbihan Grand Prix, 1983
  • Paris-Camembert, 1988
  • Grand Prix des Nations, 1989

Stage races:

  • Criterium International, 1982 and 1990
  • Tour of Sicily, 1985
  • Tour of the Netherlands, 1989
  • Ruta de Mexico, 1993

Grand tours:

  • Tour de France, 1983 and 1984; 2nd in 1989; nine stages; yellow jersey for 22 days
  • Tour of Italy, 1989; 2nd in 1984; two stages; best climber in 1984; pink jersey for 15 days
  • Tour of Spain, 3rd in 1987; two stages

© AFP 2010

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