Lemond vs Trek: “The Mother Of All Cycling Trials”

Note: Lance Armstrong responded to the WSJ article linked below on Livestrong.org and denies any feud between himself and Lemond.

So who thought that Greg Lemond and Trek would reach a settlement out of court? I sure as hell didn’t. Lemond has a bone to pick with Trek and their posterboy, Lance Armstrong. For those of you who weren’t following the cycling industry’s biggest melodrama ever, the business association between the Trek company and Greg Lemond, namely the Lemond brand of road bikes produced by Trek, ended in unfriendly terms. According to 3-time Tour-winner Lemond, Trek gave him the shaft because he accused Lance Armstrong of doping, and that they marketed his brand of bikes poorly as retribution. Trek maintains that Lemond violated the terms of his contract by repeatedly damaging the reputation and marketability of the Trek Cycling Corporation and the Lemond brand. Now things are getting crazier with the news that Armstrong’s ex-wife has been subpoenaed.

I don’t pretend to be an insider to either side, nor am I a legal expert. But I have paid attention to the cycling industry, so I’ll sling some dirt.1996 Lemond.jpg

Lemond at the Atlanta Olympics

First, let’s look at how Lemond became associated with Trek, and that means going back to the early 1990’s. Greg Lemond, America’s greatest professional cyclist ever, had just retired from the sport after winning 3 Tours de France and 2 world championships. His first Tour victory saw him pitted against his own team led by another (and arguably greater) champion Bernard Hinault. Lemond’s fame was enhanced by his stunning return to the top of the sport after a hunting accident nearly killed him. Still his later years saw him fighting with team directors while steadily loosing his competitive edge relative the new elites like Miguel Indurain. At the time of his retirement, Lemond revealed that the remaining shotgun pellets in his body had been slowly poisoning his capabilities. The story changed at some point after Armstrong started winning the Tour; now Lemond says that he was okay but everyone else was doping. I distinctly recall the cycling magazines reporting Lemond’s winter weight gain like he was Oprah. I don’t know why no one ever remembers that now.

Anyways, back to when Lemond retired, he had already established a Lemond bicycle company. In fact, his last Tour win was on a “Lemond” branded bike. Which doesn’t mean that he knew how to build a bike; he subcontracted out the work to real builders, such as Rossin and Calfee. I don’t remember the exact details, but the company never really made money. Many small businesses flounder even under talented businessman, but the general consensus in the industry is that Greg Lemond isn’t one of those talented ones. At the time, Trek was buying up small, yet well-respected companies like Bontrager, Klein, and Gary Fisher, so the relationship with Lemond seemed like a good way to grab a part of Tour de France mystique. Lemond would get the marketing and distribution channels of Trek, as well as the resources to develop leading edge product. But while Trek was hoping to ride the marketability of the Lemond name, another rider came along who establish the Trek brand worldwide: Lance Armstrong.

It’s not Lemond’s fault that Armstrong made his own courageous comeback to the top of the sport. On the other hand, you can’t blame Lance that his own comeback could spawn a popular campaign against cancer, unlike Lemond’s comeback which merely instills the chilling fear of getting gut-shot by one’s in-laws. But beyond comebacks, Armstrong has been literally larger than the sport, winning the Tour an unimaginable seven times while establishing a cancer foundation and dating celebrities. Lemond may have done what no American cyclist had done before, but everyone knows that his star has since been eclipsed.

So Greg Lemond might have become second-tier in the family, but he could have still done alright for himself. He didn’t really have to do much for Trek other than lend his name, and they didn’t even own all of his businesses: Lemond Fitness is not connected to Trek at all. Of course, he might not have become fabulously wealthy either. Sure Gary Fisher does alright under the Trek umbrella, but I’m pretty sure Keith Bontrager is just a name now and Gary Klein is irrelevant. Still, Trek had just dropped a wad of cash developing and marketing a new line of carbon bikes for the Lemond brand, so it’s not like they were going to let that brand rot. All the man needed to do was play nice in public, but maybe he didn’t feel fulfilled by the way he ended professional competition. After playing around at a number of things (race car driving, for one), he became an outspoken critic of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. And as Lance Armstrong’s star rose, a feud began between the two that made it impossible for Lemond to maintain his public face. He has been unwavering and unreserved in his accusations against Armstrong.

Though I don’t think a man of such legendary accomplishments should have to sell his integrity, I think it’s naive to think that Trek should not have had reasonable expectation for Greg Lemond to avoid slinging dirt in their house. As I said, Lemond was a winner, but Trek made the name into a popular brand of bicycle. And while I’m sure that Greg Lemond has done a lot for cycling, and I vaguely remember some youth programs he sponsored as well as some charities, you don’t have to dig very deep to find someone in the industry who doesn’t like him. As in personally. The rumors are pretty outrageous. True or not, he’s burned some of bridges. It doesn’t seem that anyone is excited about starting a new business venture with him.

Greg Lemond always seemed to thrive by seeing the world was against him, but that isn’t a perspective that has helped him after he retired from professional cycling. This lawsuit is another chance for him to fight a public yet futile battle; it will help no one. At best he can hope to dim the star of Lance Armstrong, but Lemond will never be a marketable name again outside of selling tabloids. Greg Lemond, you readers, and everyone else can spout all you want about Armstrong’s urine samples from 1999 and phantom refrigerators filled with mysterious substances, that doesn’t change the fact that Lemond pissed all over the business association he had with Trek. And I don’t see how he can hope to conclusively stick it to Armstrong when so many others have failed. This is a stupid lawsuit.