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The Last Rider

This chronicle of retired American cyclist Greg LeMond’s tiring, tumultuous return to his former glory during the 1989 Tour de France seems like something that would be right at home on ESPN's acclaimed "30 for 30" documentary series. Unfortunately, there is already a “30 for 30” doc—2014’s “Slaying the Badger”—about an intense Tour de France race LeMond had. 

The story that “Slaying the Badger” lays out—how French cyclist/mentor Bernard Hinault began a rivalry with a young LeMond during the ‘86 Tour after LeMond helped him win the previous year’s Tour—is a brief part of “The Last Rider”’s pain-ridden first half. Although LeMond won that Tour, it’s not a victory he relished. The stone-cold betrayal by Hinault sent him into a depression that also brought back shameful memories of being sexually abused at age 13 by a family friend, yet another, alleged loved one who betrayed him. LeMond literally got hit with a bigger setback when he returned to the States. During a holiday turkey shoot, he was accidentally shot by his brother-in-law, putting him in critical condition. (His wife Kathy tells how she almost went into labor at the same hospital where LeMond fought for his life.)

WIth over 40 pellets in his body, LeMond slowly began his journey back to being a pro cyclist. He eventually became a competitor in the ‘89 Tour, when most of this documentary’s action occurs. That’s where he began a rivalry with champion French cyclist Laurent Fignon, the same man who defeated Hinault in the ‘84 Tour and made LeMond aid Hinault in winning the following year. An ego-driven, media-hating, ornery cuss of a Frenchman, Fignon almost pedaled his balls off to defeat LeMond, who was just there to see if he could still roll with the big dogs.

“The Last Rider” is an engaging, efficient race to the finish line. Director Alex Holmes takes us back to those arduous hills LeMond and Fignon rode up and rode through with help from a lot of videotaped footage and commentary from the LeMonds. There are also testimonials from Pedro Delgado (the ‘88 Tour winner whose late start at the ‘89 Tour’s prologue practically set off the LeMond-Fignon rivalry) and Cyrille Guimard, the ex-cyclist-turned-coach who trained LeMond, Fignon, and Hinault.

Although “The Last Rider” paints Fignon, who died of cancer in 2010, as the designated villain (you could say anyone who’s French in the story—and that includes Hinault and the chesty Guimard—is the antagonist), both Holmes and LeMond respectably don’t bring up the times that year when he tested positive for amphetamines. You would think LeMond—whose anti-doping stance is so notorious he made a lot of Lance Armstrong fans mad when he wondered if the champion cyclist was juicing back in the day—would be the first to posit that Fignon was on that stuff. But the closest underhanded thing LeMond accuses Fignon of is holding onto a motorcycle during the race.  

Basically, if you’re a fan of sports cinema where an all-American lad goes up against a Eurotrashy adversary (Fignon even looks like the blonde-haired dude who tried to kill Bruce Willis in “Die Hard”) on a televised world stage, “The Last Rider” gives a nice, nifty portrait of a guy who goes through one hell of an uphill battle—both figuratively and literally.

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Film Credits

The Last Rider movie poster

The Last Rider (2023)

97 minutes

Cast

Greg LeMond as Self

Kathy LeMond as Self

Director

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