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Sunday, October 6, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Greg Lemond Trades His Bike For A Race Car -- Retired Cyclist Says He Will Switch From 2 Wheels To 4

AP

Greg LeMond has fallen in love with four wheels.

The retired three-time world cycling champion and Tour de France winner was looking for something to give him the same kind of charge he used to get from the two-wheel sport. He found auto racing.

LeMond will drive in the USAC-SCCA Formula Ford 2000 Pro Series for Miller Brothers Racing in 1997.

"I missed the action," he said. "I'm a racer. I don't care for the training in bike racing. I don't miss that. But you don't need to do that kind of training to race a car."

LeMond, 35, will take over the ride left vacant by FF2000 series champion Steve Knapp, who will stay with the Miller team but move up to either Indy Lights or Toyota-Atlantic, both stepping stones to the PPG Indy Car World Series.

Could the same path be in LeMond's future?

"It's way too soon to be thinking about anything like that," he said. "I'd like to do anything in car racing and I'd love to be driving Indy cars, but that's a far-off dream."

Knapp will help LeMond learn the ropes, especially chassis set-ups and aerodynamics.

"I'll probably be in the back of the pack for a while," LeMond said. "I don't know where my potential is. I just know I'm pretty hooked on this sport."

"Don't look for me to be where Steve is right now. Give me time. I've only had about 16 days in the car."

John Miller, the team owner and a driving teammate, approached LeMond after watching him finish 12th earlier this year in a rain-soaked pro racing debut in the SCCA Spec Racer Ford Pro Series at Minneapolis. The team later tested him at Blackhawk Farms Raceway at Rockford, Ill., in early September.

"This is not just a celebrity ride," Miller said. "We think there is a serious potential here. Greg is old for bike racing, but not for auto racing."

LeMond retired from cycling in 1994 because he was diagnosed with a rare muscular disease called mitochondria myopathy, which affected his ability to compete in the sport.

"I was diagnosed with a genetic disease that only affects me at the top end of my performance," he said. "It shouldn't have any effect on me in a race car."

LeMond said his cycling education should stand him in good stead on four wheels.

"In the Tour de France, you're doing 40-50 miles per hour in a group of about 60 guys going downhill," he said. "I think the similarities are learning the course and knowing it well and knowing your tactics.

"In racing, cycles or cars, you always have to be looking ahead, and your reaction time is very similar. Both sports are very intense and you have to stay very focused."

LeMond is also very aware of the physical danger that is always present in his new sport.

"My wife is worrying about the safety aspects of racing, but there's danger in any sport. A lot of people die in bike racing," he said. "Sixty miles per hour coming down a mountain pass without a helmet is pretty dangerous, too.

"You don't think about that part of it in either sport. You just prepare the best you can, get the best equipment you can get and go out and do the best you can."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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