The Tour organisation invited 22 teams to the Tour, with 9 cyclists each. Three additional wildcards were given.
The teams entering the race were:
The 1989 Tour de France line-up included four previous winners, of whom three were to be the principal combatants in the race. Pedro Delgado, age 29, had won the 1988 Tour de France with a comfortable winning margin of over 7 minutes. He had also placed second overall in the 1987 Tour de France race when he lost by 40 seconds to Stephen Roche, the second-narrowest margin of victory in tour history prior to the '89 tour. Delgado had consistently challenged strongly since his first appearance, the 1983 Tour de France. However, on two occasions he had to withdraw, once after a crash and once because of his mother's death. Delgado followed his '88 Tour win with more winning form for victory in the 1989 Vuelta a España seven weeks before the '89 Tour.
Roche, age 29, as well as winning the triple crown in '87 of Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and World Championship, had finished third in 1985 Tour de France. However, he had suffered a serious knee injury in 1986 that was to overshadow much of his career and had shown little since '87 to suggest he would contend for the top spot again. He had though finished ninth three weeks before in the 1989 Giro d'Italia. Roche's knee problem was to attract attention in the '89 tour.
Greg LeMond, age 28, won the 1986 Tour de France after having finished third and second respectively in the '84 and '85 tours. A near-fatal shotgun accident on 20 April 1987 had cost him 2 years of his career since the '86 tour victory. In the lead-up to the tour, he completed the 1989 Giro d'Italia in which he was not in contention for any of the race jerseys. However, something which attracted little attention at the time but has been highlighted since was his performance in the 22nd and final stage of the 1989 Giro d'Italia, a 53 km individual time trial into Florence. With the racing miles from the Giro's earlier stages in his legs, and after being treated for anemia with an iron injection earlier in the race, LeMond finished second in that time trial. His time was over a minute better on the stage than the Giro winner, Laurent Fignon. Someone who did notice LeMond's time trial was Cyrille Guimard, Fignon's Director, who forecast that LeMond would be up there in the Tour. This was less than a month before the start of the '89 Tour.
Laurent Fignon, age 28, won the 1983 and 1984 Tour de France before injury impacted his form for a number of seasons. His resurgence to form though had won him the 1989 Giro d'Italia three weeks earlier and he was the current #1 ranked cyclist in the world.
There were also 2 future winners in the line-up who had not yet won the race at that point in their careers. Future five-times winner Miguel Indurain (Indurain's 25th birthday was during the '89 Tour) was riding his fifth tour. At this point, he rode as a support rider for Delgado. Bjarne Riis, age 25, rode the 89 tour supporting team-mate, Laurent Fignon. Riis won the 1996 Tour de France, the year after the last of Indurain's wins.
3,285 km (2,041 mi) of racing was scheduled to start on July 1 and divided into 1 prologue followed by 21 stages. The race would last 23 days with 21 racing days and 2 rest days. One day, July 2, was scheduled to host 2 stages. These were a plain stage followed later in the day by the team time trial.
There were two transfers. The first was from Wasquehal to Dinard on a rest day in between stages 4 and 5. The second was between L'Isle d'Abeau and Versailles after the finish of the penultimate stage. The second rest day was after the mountain time trial stage 15. The race ended on July 23.
The race started outside France, specifically in Luxembourg before then transiting through the Wallonia region of Belgium. The route then took an anti clockwise circuit through France visiting the Pyrenees prior to the Alps. The race consisted of 7 mountain stages, 2 Pyrenean and 5 Alpine. In total there was 5 time trials including the prologue, 1 team time trial, 1 mountain time trial and 2 individual flat stage time trials. Unusually the last of the time trials was held on the last stage of the race as opposed to the usual penultimate stage of the race. This was the race's first last day time trial since the 1972 Tour de France.
At the start of the 1989 Tour de France, the defending champion, Pedro Delgado, missed his start time at the prologue. Delgado would lose 2:40 before the race had even begun as the clock ticked for him to appear at the start gate. The Spaniard ended the first day of the race placed last of the 198 riders with a time of 2 mins 54 slower than the day's winner. LeMond surprised by placing fourth in the opening prologue. Fignon was second, Sean Kelly third with all three finishing six seconds behind the winner on the day, Erik Breukink.
Stages 1 and 2 were held on the same day. Breukink held yellow for only 1 day. Acácio da Silva won stage 1 and became the first Portuguese to wear the yellow jersey. Fignon dropped to fifth for a day, the lowest position he would occupy on the leaderboard throughout the race. He was 2 mins 37 behind the yellow jersey.
The stage 2 team trial was won by the team of one the year's principal contenders, the Super U team of Laurent Fignon. LeMond's ADR team finished the stage fifth 51 seconds behind Fignon's team. This was to be the greatest contribution of LeMond's ADR team mates better suited to riding Classics than grand tours. Lemond's effort in the mountains, unlike his rivals, were characterised by his team mates having insufficient climbing ability to offer support. Delgado lost more time on stage 2 as his team finished last in the time trial at 4 mins and 32 secs behind the winning time of Fignon's team. After 2 days of racing, if last placed Delgado was to take yellow he would have to make up over seven minutes on Fignon with the then world ranked #1 well placed in 4th in the General Classification (GC).
Stage 3 was won by Raúl Alcalá of the team who produced three stage winners who would finish in the race's top eight, PDM. Added to these three would be the man to finish in 9th overall and was rewarded with the green jersey for the consistency of his stage finishes, Sean Kelly. LeMond was placed fifteenth in the GC at this point, the lowest position he would occupy in the '89 tour. He was 3 mins 28 behind the yellow jersey.
In the Stage 5 time trial, LeMond surprised again by winning it and taking the yellow jersey by five seconds as leader of the General Classification. Da Silva had held yellow for four days. Delgado placed second on the stage 24 seconds behind with Fignon in third a further 32 seconds behind Delgado in the stage. This trio, three of the four previous winners to start the race, would end the race occupying the podium places. The other former winner in the race, Stephen Roche, placed 11th in the time trial. The race synthesised into LeMond and Fignon jousting for yellow with the top two positions in the GC occupied from now until the end of the race by these two men. Throughout the race they were never more than 53 secs apart in the GC. Delgado was battling to try to regain the time he lost in Luxembourg and was still some time away from moving into the top 3 in the GC. LeMond was thrilled to have won the jersey and was hoping just to remain competitive in the Tour.
Stage 6 proved unremarkable to the main classifications but produced a human interest story. Twenty-seven-year-old French domestique Joël Pelier had never been watched in his pro career by his parents who were dedicated to caring for Pelier's severely disabled sibling who needed constant attention. Pelier's parents made arrangements to watch stage 6 from near the finish line to which Pelier responded with an attempted lone breakaway. Pelier held out to win the stage by 1 minute and 34 seconds. He rode on his own for 4½ hours through wind and rain for 102 of the stage's 161 miles. It was the then second longest breakway in Tour de France history after Albert Bourlon in 1947 and since surpassed by Thierry Marie. On the podium for the day's presentations a tear drenched Pelier was seen on television saying, "Mon per, mon per". "This win is so special to me because today is the first time that my mother and father have seen me in the Tour de France,’ said Pelier.
In the Pyrenees Delgado clawed back some lost time. The first of the two Pyrenean stages however was notable for the first tour stage win in the career of the man who would go on to win five straight tours in the 90s, Miguel Indurain. Indurain would finish the Tour de France in 17th. Delgado finished the stage in third place reclaiming 29 seconds on Fignon and LeMond who crossed the line together in seventh and eight respectively. This was the last stage Roche completed in the tour that year before withdrawing after hitting his troublesome knee on the handlebars.
The second of the Pyrenean stages saw Delgado in a three-man breakaway with Scot Robert Millar and Frenchman Charly Mottet. Millar took the Superbagnères stage win in a 2-man sprint finish with Delgado. Fignon crossed the line in seventh place 3 mins 26 seconds behind Delgado and 12 seconds ahead of LeMond two places further back. This was enough for Fignon to take the yellow jersey from LeMond by seven seconds. Delgado's two top three finishes in the Pyrenees moved him up to fourth overall. He had gained 4 minutes on the yellow jersey from the tour's first two mountain stages and was 2 mins 53 behind Fignon. Third place at this juncture was occupied by Mottet.
Stage 13 held on the Bastille Day bicentenary was won in Marseille with a one-man breakaway by Frenchman, Vincent Barteau. Barteau was a surprise holder of the yellow jersey at the 1984 Tour de France for 12 days. In 1984, Barteau eventually surrendered the jersey to Laurent Fignon, who won the race. Barteau's career went into a major tailspin following the 1984 race. The stage 13 victory in 1989 marked a redemption of sorts for Barteau.
In the first of five alpine stages, LeMond emerged from the Stage 15 mountain time trial at Orcières Merlette once again in the yellow jersey. The time trial itself that day was won by a PDM rider, Dutchman Steven Rooks. Delgado crossed the line 49 seconds behind in fourth to regain further time on his 2 main rivals. LeMond placed fifth on the day a further 12 seconds behind Delgado and 47 seconds ahead of Fignon who placed 10th on the stage. Thus LeMond was ahead by 40 seconds.
LeMond increased his lead on Fignon by 13 seconds in stage 16 to Briançon, France's highest altitude town. Delgado finished in the same group as LeMond. The 53 second GC lead LeMond had over Fignon was the biggest gap between the two riders at any point in the race. Unlike the three previous mountain stages, Delgado gained no ground on the yellow jersey.
The stage 17 finish at Alpe d'Huez, well established as the blue riband of the mountain stages, was won this year by a lone breakaway ride by another PDM rider, Gert-Jan Theunisse of the Netherlands. Delgado and Fignon crossed the line together in second and third 1 min 19 secs ahead of fifth placed LeMond for Fignon to regain the yellow jersey with a lead overall of 26 seconds. Delgado, convincing winner the year before, now moved into third at 1 min 55 behind the leader. Also, for the first time in the race he was now within the 2 mins 40 of the yellow jersey that he had lost by missing his starting time on day 1. For Delgado though, this was the last time in the race in which he regained any time on either of the two men ahead of him and represented his high-water mark in the race. While he placed second on three stages in this year's race, he failed to win a Tour de France stage for the first time since 1984 when he had been unable to complete the race. Delgado had won back time in four mountain stages as well as in the stage 5 time trial. While the Spaniard would retain his third place to the race's end, he would lose time on the race leaders twice before the podium to eventually finish 3 mins 34 behind yellow. Theunisse's efforts had him now up to fourth in the GC with Mottet slipping from third to fifth.
Fignon took Stage 18 at Villard-de-Lans extending his lead by a further 24 seconds to 50 seconds with LeMond finishing in the group of five behind Fignon. Delgado lost time on his two main rivals finishing in seventh on the day 12 seconds further back from LeMond. Of the seven mountain stages in the race, this was the only one where Delgado ended the day worse in his challenge to win the yellow jersey than he had been at the start of the stage.
LeMond took the next stage (at Aix-les-Bains) in a mountain stage where the race's top four overall positioned riders plus Spain's Marino Lejarreta broke away from the rest of the field. LeMond outsprinted his rivals at the finish to mark the end of the mountains in that year's race. Fignon finished second in the stage in the same time as LeMond and still in yellow in the overall classification ahead of LeMond. Delgado at the end of his preferred terrain was placed third in the stage and also in the race overall. Theunisse similarly ended with a 4th place in both the stage and the overall placing with Lejarreta another to end the stage in the position that matched his position in the overall classification, in his case fifth. The stage finish order of LeMond, Fignon, Delgado, Theunisse, Lejarreta was also the order in which that year's tour would end.
As the racers prepared for the final stage, it was learned that leader Fignon had developed saddle sores in stage 19, which gave him pain and made it impossible to sleep at night before the time trial. Although LeMond had been riding spectacular individual time trials throughout the Tour, the amount of time he had to make up was significant. French newspapers had prepared special editions with Fignon on the front page, preparing for his victory. The final stage from Versailles to Paris was billed as a showdown between Fignon and LeMond, but it was agreed that the task facing the 1986 champion was nearly impossible. On the stage, LeMond innovatively used triathlon handlebars while Fignon rode a more conventional timetrial bike with bullhorn handlebars and disc wheels with a smaller wheel in the front. LeMond told his team not to give him his time splits as he wanted to ride all-out.
The final time trial was over a course approximately 25 kilometres (15.5 mi) long, with a net elevation loss of 75 metres (247 ft). The riders had a moderate tailwind. LeMond put his bike into a huge 55 x 12 gear. His effort was the fastest individual time trial for a distance longer than 10 km ever ridden. A November 1989 Bicycling Magazine article, supported by wind-tunnel data, estimated that LeMond may have gained 1 minute on Fignon through the use of the new aerobars. He also could have gained 16 seconds by wearing his aero helmet with a slightly elongated tail section for better aerodynamics, while Fignon rode bare-headed with his ponytail exposed to the wind. Fignon did perhaps gain a 5-second advantage by using a disk front wheel, while LeMond used a 24-spoke bladed radially spoked front wheel. Fignon finished third in the final time trial with an average speed of 53.59 kilometres per hour (33.30 mph). His time was fifty-eight seconds slower than LeMond's, which gave the yellow jersey and the Tour title to the American. LeMond's final margin of victory over Fignon was eight seconds. Another change in the general classification top 10 produced by the time trial was Kelly finishing ninth in the GC overtaking Millar by 21 seconds.
Greg LeMond won the most stages with three, two of which were time trials. Fignon and Barteau each had 2 wins with one of these being in the team trial. The only rider to win more than one individual road race stage was the Dutchman Jelle Nijdam, who won on two long days with no large mountains. The nation with the greatest number of stage wins was Netherlands with six (Breukink, Nijdam x 2, Mathieu Hermans, Rooks and Theunisse) The race team to win the most stages was PDM with four (Alcalá, Martin Earley, Rooks and Theunisse).
There were several classifications in the 1989 Tour de France. The most important was the general classification, calculated by adding each cyclist's finishing times on each stage. The cyclist with the least accumulated time was the race leader, identified by the yellow jersey; the winner of this classification is considered the winner of the Tour. LeMond won the general classification. Fignon spent the most stages as leader with nine ahead of LeMond's eight. In all during the race the leader changed seven times. The only other two riders to lead the general classification in 1989 were Breukink for 1 day after the prologue and then da Silva for the 4 days subsequent to Breukink. Delgado wore the yellow jersey on the prologue as the winner of the 1988 Tour de France.
Additionally, there was a points classification, where cyclists were given points for finishing among the best in a stage finish, or in intermediate sprints. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a green jersey.
There was also a mountains classification. The organisation had categorized some climbs as either hors catégorie, first, second, third, or fourth-category; points for this classification were won by the first cyclists that reached the top of these climbs first, with more points available for the higher-categorized climbs. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a polkadot jersey.
For the last time, there was a combination classification. This classification was calculated as a combination of the other classifications, its leader wore the combination jersey.
Also for the last time, the intermediate sprints classification was calculated. This classification had similar rules as the points classification, but only points were awarded on intermediate sprints. Its leader wore a red jersey.
The sixth individual classification was the young rider classification, which was not marked by a jersey. This was decided the same way as the general classification, but only riders under 25 years were eligible.
For the team classification, the times of the best three cyclists per team on each stage were added; the leading team was the team with the lowest total time. The riders in the team that lead this classification wore yellow caps.
The combativity award was given to Laurent Fignon.