This chronicle of the tiring and tumultuous return of retired American cyclist Greg LeMond to his former glory during the 1989 Tour de France seems to be something that would be at home in the famous ESPN documentary series “30 for 30”. Unfortunately, there is already a “30 for 30″ documentary —”Slaying the Badger” in 2014 — about an intense Tour de France race that LeMond had.
The story told by “Slaying the Badger” – how French cyclist/Mentor Bernard Hinault started a rivalry with a young LeMond during the Tour 86 after LeMond helped him win the previous year’s Tour-is a brief part of the painful first half of “The Last Rider”. Although LeMond won this tour, it was not a victory that he appreciated. Hinault’s icy betrayal plunged him into a get-down that also brought back shameful memories of having been venereally assaulted at the age of 13 by a family friend, another alleged relative who had cheated on him. LeMond was literally hit by a bigger setback when he returned to the United States. During a turkey shoot on vacation, he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law, putting him in critical condition. (His wife Kathy tells how she almost gave birth in the same hospital where LeMond fought for his life.)
With more than 40 Pellets in his body, LeMond slowly began his journey back to professional cycling. He eventually became a Lap 89 competitor when most of the action in this documentary takes place. There he began a rivalry with French cycling champion Laurent Fignon, the same man who beat Hinault in Lap 84 and led LeMond to support Hinault in the following year’s victory. Fignon, an ego-directed, media-hating nervous curse of a Frenchman, nearly pedaled to defeat LeMond, who was only there to see if he could still ride with the big dogs.
“The Last Rider” is an engaging and effective race to the finish line. Director Alex Holmes takes us back to the arduous hills that LeMond and Fignon climbed and crossed with the help of a lot of video footage and comments from the LeMonds. There are also testimonies from Pedro Delgado (the winner of the tour of 88, whose after start in the prologue of the Tour of 89 practically triggered the rivalry between LeMond and Fignon) and Cyrille Guimard, the former cyclist turned coach who trained LeMond, Fignon and Hinault.
Although “The Last Rider” portrays Fignon, who died of cancer in 2010, as the designated villain (you could say that all the French in the story — and that includes Hinault and the busty Guimard — is the antagonist), Holmes and LeMond do not respectably mention the moments this year when he tested positive for amphetamines. You would think that LeMond-whose anti-doping stance is so infamous that he drove many Lance Armstrong fans crazy wondering if the Champion cyclist was juicing at the time-would be the first to claim that Fignon was on this thing. But the most devious thing that LeMond condemned Fignon of is clinging to a motorcycle during the race.