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Le Professeur: Fignon ne Chômera Pas

May 27, 2011

Maybe it’s the nickname. Maybe it’s the glasses. But I have always felt a connection with the late Laurent Fignon, who was a terrific rider and one the first I remember seeing on Tour de France feeds on the television in the 1980s. I’ll need to write more about him in the future, but I love this photograph, presumably taken over breakfast during the 1991 Tour. Also this: how cool is the French language?

Fignon ne chômera pas

The headline on the lefthand page translates loosely as “Fignon won’t be idle,” but I love turning “idle” into a verb like this. Fignon, of course, appears to be studying the story on Chiappucci. There is a grace and calm about le Professeur in this picture, which remained to a degree in the heat of battle…

I’ve been surprised by the extent to which Fignon’s passing last fall has been lingering with me, especially on every solo ride.  There have frequently been patches of quiet road, where I find myself reflecting on Fignon.  There’s no single moment that I’m recalling; to be honest, I remember Fignon best in the twilight of his career, as a smooth cyclist who looked so out of place in the peloton with his long hair and glasses and yet so natural and graceful on a bicycle.

Le Professeur was unquestionably an outsider, and his nickname certainly indicated that.  More often than not, cycling—and most other professional sports, for that matter—provided a rare opportunity to avoid the mundane or dangerous occupations of the working class world.  It was no place for intellectuals.  And, perhaps, that is why I’m still hooked on Fignon.

Finally, this: in a sport whose history and culture are steeped in French tradition and whose iconic race tours France, Fignon is arguably the last, great French cyclist

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