Slaying the Badger
Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France
by Richard Moore
Stirring the pot. It was something which Hinault, the phenomenal racer often referred to as "the Badger," liked to do when racing, and something which has become intertwined with his legacy owing to the 1986 Tour de France, won by teammate Greg LeMond. LeMond's victory was anything but straightforward, however, and even after 286 pages, including in depth interviews and stage by stage analysis of the 1986 TdF it is unclear whether Hinault was a mentor or a backstabber. Equally unclear was whether LeMond was a worthy champion or a paranoid, overly sensitive head case. One thing which is clear is that the bold claim in the subtitle of this recent release from VeloPress, that this was the "greatest Tour de France," is, while debatable (author Richard Moore engaging in a bit of his own stirring of the pot), certainly not without merit.
Moore is a cyclist himself and approaches the subject matter with an admirably unbiased, yet obviously extremely interested, eye. The bulk of the first half of the book is taken from interviews with Hinault and LeMond, as well as others crucial to their story. He is adept enough at giving them each their fair shake that I found myself alternating my sympathies from one to the other, depending on whom he was talking to at the time, and this continued even throughout the analysis of the climactic race itself. Moore's experience as a cyclist is an aid to this book as much of the debate swirling around Hinault and LeMond and the '86 tour hinges on tactics. One thing which makes cycling such a dynamic sport (as well as a difficult sport for non cyclists to follow) is the relationship between team tactics and individual achievement. While this may exist in other sports, there is a lot more room for interpretation as to how one can best help one's teammate at certain moments (as all of us who spend the weekend reading race reports of friends and teammates know all too well). Add to this the deals struck in a peloton, the loyalties between fellow countrymen vs teammates, and motivational techniques of a wily veteran, and you have the makings of endless hours of arguing over exactly "what happened" between LeMond, and Hinault, as well as their team, coaches, the owner, and other riders in the '86 TdF.
"Slaying the Badger" makes for an excellent read, unfortunately it does nothing to settle any debate. Hinault as cheater or good teammate and LeMond as neurotic victim, or unsupported champion? Discuss at your next book club, along with whether this was the greatest Tour de France, or just enjoy the insight into what was certainly an awfully interesting period in professional cycling.
You know that old box of bike parts you've put in your closet?
Recorded inside the press room at Grenoble Velodrome, we bring you Episode #8 of the Insider from the 2011 Tour de France, our final podcast.
Recorded 1,850 metres above sea level atop the famed Alpe d'Huez, we bring you Episode #7 of the Insider podcast from the 2011 Tour de France.