Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de France, received a hero's welcome yesterday in his adopted hometown of Kortrijk, Belgium.
A tired but smiling LeMond did not try to to hide a trace of bitterness as he mentioned the battles he had to fight with members of his own team in order to win the world's top cycling race.
LeMond, 25, who was born in California and resides part of the year in Nevada, said the race was "the hardest three weeks" of his life, particularly because of his duel with his team leader, Frenchman Bernard Hinault, who finished second.
"I had helped Hinault so much last year and was loyal to the team," LeMond said, "but I don't think the team was loyal to me this year. " Hinault was putting pressure on me, hoping I would crack."
Mayor Felix Decabooter handed him a gold medal and warmly congratulated him on behalf of the people of Kortrijk, saying, "You are a winner."
LeMond returned from Paris at 3:30 a.m. yesterday to find a group of fans waiting in front of his house with balloons and congratulatory signs. They also had painted the pavement with the greeting, "Champion of Champions."