US cyclist takes Europe by storm, but gets few accolades at home

''I don't think my victory will make headlines in the States,'' he joked last month after becoming the first American to win the men's world cycling championships.

He was right. His win was largely ignored in the United States, where bicycle racing is still in its infancy as a sport. But in Western Europe, where it ranks with soccer in popularity, the American's stunning performance was front-page news.

Last week, Greg LeMond, who lives near Brussels, became the first American to win the coveted ''super-prestige'' trophy - an award given each year to the rider who piles up the most points in dozens of races on the spring-to-fall circuit in Western Europe.

Saturday he clinched the title by placing second in the season's last major race, Italy's Tour de Lombardie.

At 22, LeMond is the hottest property to hit the sport since Frenchman Bernard Hinault, who has won the Tour de France four times and is one of four racers in history, including LeMond, to have won both the professional world road race champi-onship and the super-prestige in the same season.

Next year, LeMond will enter the Tour de France for the first time, joining about 100 other riders for three weeks of racing through 2,300 miles of France's cities, flatlands, and mountains in one of sport's most grueling tests.

Few doubt that he can win, including Belgium's Eddy Merckx, now retired, who has won the Tour a record-tying five times. ''LeMond has the ability,'' he said.

Born in Los Angeles, LeMond took up cycling in 1975 after a winter without snow in California prevented him from indulging his real passion - downhill skiing. He won his first race and decided, at 15, he wanted to turn pro someday. As a member of the 1980 US Olympic team, he went to France to train, attracting the attention of the manager of a French team - and the rest is history. He still races for the Renault team and is expected to be its captain next year.

LeMond was the first American to win the world juniors title, in 1979, and finished second last year in the pro worlds. Two weeks later, he won the prestigious Tour de l'Avenir (France) by more than 10 minutes - the largest winning margin in the history of the race.

This year, his capturing the super-prestige trophy is the best testimony to his current superiority.

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