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Cycle of life stirs LeMond to ride against sexual abuse

Santa Barbara News-Press

By MIKE TAKEUCHI NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT

After being graciously invited to interview three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond last Saturday, I looked forward to hearing the thoughts of the man who inspired this columnist to buy a bicycle 24 years ago.

While expecting to hear him talk about the similarities between this year’s tumultuous Tour and his own first win in 1986, what I got was much more.

LeMond was in Montecito for a bike ride that benefited 1 in 6, an organization that offers support to males who have been victimized by sexual abuse. Forty five riders raised an undisclosed dollar amount for charity for the opportunity to ride and chat with LeMond for a little more than 50 miles and enjoy a barbecue after.

Prior to the ride, the 48 year old spoke candidly about his thoughts on this year’s Tour, the proliferation of performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) in the sport, and the reason why he was here. In 2007, to the shock of the cycling world, LeMond was forced to reveal publicly that he was molested by a family friend when he was a child.

“For years, I just blocked it out of my mind,” LeMond said. “I had put it away. And it came out in an unfortunate situation.”

Prior to an appeals trial for defrocked 2006 Tour winner Floyd Landis, a bizarre set of circumstances occurred. After calling the beleaguered cyclist to encourage him to be truthful in court, LeMond privately admitted his past to parallel his own struggle to find the truth with Landis’ plight.

Six months later, Landis’ business agent called LeMond claiming to be the offending family friend the night before LeMond was scheduled to testify. The next day in court, with the threat in his mind, LeMond was forced to make his past known.

“Because it was public and on everyone’s mind, I couldn’t block it out anymore,” LeMond said.

The positive that came out of it occurred when Steve LePore, the executive director of 1 in 6, wrote LeMond a letter to offer support. To LePore’s surprise, LeMond called him directly a short time later.

“Initially, I thought it was my friend calling me as a joke,” LePore laughed. “But after flying out and speaking with him at length, Greg was eager to get involved right away.”

After getting LeMond’s endorsement, the group started planning a ride to raise awareness and funds for the organization whose name stems from a scientifically researched ratio of one out of six men who are victims of sexual abuse – a number that is considered to be conservative.

“The reality is that it is a fairly unreported occurrence,” LePore said. “If a guy who is lost won’t pull over to ask for directions, he sure as hell isn’t going to come forward and admit that he was abused.

“We started this because, simply, there are very few services available for men.”

The 1 in 6 website (1in6.org) offers free support in terms of resources, directions to assistance, as well as a helpline. For fundraising, in addition to this half-century and barbecue hosted by Jim and Sherry Villanueva, there is another ride set for the east coast.

“With today’s economy, charities have to be creative in how to raise funds,” LePore said. “With Greg coming on, it was only natural to have a cycling event. We can’t be grateful enough for having him aboard.”

For LeMond, who brought along his ebullient wife Kathy from their home in Minnesota, 1 in 6 has given him a form of catharsis.

“(1 in 6) helped me realize that there are alternatives to break through a system that is set up for silence,” LeMond said. “Because the alternative is denying stuff. And if it’s kept inside, it will kill you.”

e-mail: irontak(at)yahoo.com