On Bernard Hinault

(BLOGGER’S NOTE: this is day 8 of a series of short essays designed for the lay fan to learn more about the Tour de France. I will be posting one of these for every day of the Tour. Today, we look at another legendary name in cycling.)

You can sum up the incredible magnetism and fighting spirit of a legend like Bernard Hinault (AKA La Blaireau or The Badger) with the following set of stories:

In the 1977 Dauphine, while leading both the overall race and this particular stage, Hinault overcooked a turn on a mountain descent and wound up falling into a ravine. Luckily (?), he hit a tree about eight feet down and was able to keep from falling any further. He was helped back up to the road and back on to the bike. He paused briefly on the next ascent and had to walk off a case of rubber legs as it him, “I almost DIED.” He went on to win the race.

In 1978, the riders decided to mount a protest over the Tour’s policy of “split stages” (wherein the Tour would hold two short stages on the same day, thus allowing them to charge more towns for starting line and finishing line fees. It made more money for the Tour, but the riders never saw any of that money and it could cut deeply into their rest times.) The protest took the form of riding the morning stage so slowly, they arrived at the finish line in Valence d’ Agen an hour later than expected. Once they arrived in town, the entire peloton came to a halt, all lined up behind Hinault. Hinault then tucked his hands behind his back, stuck out his chin and said to the other riders, “No one moves until I do.” When the mayor began haranguing the riders, Hinault shouted, “F**k you! Who are you, anyway?” Years later, when Hinault and the mayor bumped into each other on a social occasion, the mayor laughingly remembered how much attention they got for the conflict. “Yeah,” Hinault replied, “I made you famous.” Oh, and it’s worth noting that when Hinault commanded the loyalty of the riders, he was all of 23 years old and riding in his first Tour. And he won the race.

In 1980, the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic was hit by a blizzard. Hinault rode the race with only a rain jacket for cover. He suffered frostbite on his right hand and to this day, has no feeling in three of his fingers. And he won the race.

In 1981, Hinault rode the Paris-Roubaix one day classic in rainy conditions. The route is lined with cobblestones and if you’ve ever ridden on wet cobblestones, you know it’s the closest thing you can get to riding a bike on a skating rink. Hinault contemptuously referred to it as a “race for dickheads.” Didn’t stop him from winning it, though.

In 1984, a stage on the Paris-Nice race was blocked by striking dockworkers. Hinault responded by riding right into the cadre of dockworkers and trading punches with them. When asked about it later, Hinault expressed sympathy for the dock workers cause, but said, essentially, “I don’t show up to their work and interrupt them.”

In the 1985 Tour de France, Hinault, wearing the leader’s jersey, crashed near the end of stage 14. His face was bloodied and he suffered a broken nose. He looked like this as he crossed the finish line:

Hinault broken

He was also suffering from bronchitis. Oh, and he won the race, his record-tying fifth Tour title.

There’s also this quote: “When I was suffering, I would attack. That way, they didn’t know I was suffering.”

So chapeau to Bernard Hinault. James Bond on a bicycle.

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