Life at the top of professional cycling is always hard. To climb back to the peak after missing an entire season through a freak accident might be impossible. Nevertheless, that's the goal of American Greg LeMond, the 1986 winner of the Tour de France who was accidently shot in a hunting accident last spring.

"I'm trying to bring myself back from absolutely below zero to the level I was in 1986," he said. "And I don't think it's possible just yet. I think it will take me a full year to adapt."But despite indifferent form so far this season, LeMond is not about to let the grass grow under his wheels.

"I aim to do well in the Tour de France this year. That's my target," LeMond told United Press International. "I don't like to start in the Tour unless I feel I can win. I don't want to be premature and say that I can win, but that's my goal."

Lemond first climbed on a racing bike when he was 14. He wanted a fitness program to help him with his skiing. It was love at first sight and in the following 12 years LeMond has only managed about three weeks on the ski slopes.

In 1981 he moved to Europe, home of big-time professional cycling, where he carved a place for himself on the continental circuit. He claimed the 1983 world road racing championship, and his 1986 Tour de France victory, riding for the French La Vie Claire team, was the first by a North American.

LeMond was unable to defend the title in 1987 because of the shooting accident. He was back in the saddle just a few months after being shot and raced again after four weeks of training, but he has a realistic view of his immediate future. His season's early program was interrupted when he had to lay off for two weeks with tendon trouble at the end of March. He is also under no illusions about the standard of competition.

"It's hard for me to judge myself right now. I was getting better, but there are a lot of other people getting better also," he said.

LeMond was in Austria for the recent Europa Grand Prix road race. Hindered by a minor stomach ailment, he withdrew in the final stages of the 178 kikometers (110.6 miles) mountain course.

Following the race in Austria, LeMond went to train on the northern mountain stretches of the Tour of Italy course, the next major race on the schedule, which for the first time will include a swing through the Tirolian Alps.