From fans. For fans

LeMond/Hinault : the 1985-1986 Controversy


How many times did we have a conversation with another fellow cycling nut, arguing about who should have won this or that, according to a/our point of view (sharper than any other, of course), b/our personal taste (which is backed with facts, of course), c/our memory (100% accurate, of course) or d/all previous points ?

You got it, there are as many interpretations of a race than there are viewers or racers themselves. Riders make no exception. Read any rider’s autobiography and you will find a strong tendency to embellish victories while putting aside flaws or not-so-flattering episodes. It’s just a very human thing to do, really and he who has not sinned might throw the first “musette” at my face.
But let’s be honest, re-making history is, basically, a lot of fun. And the more you actually try and make sense, the better.

The 1985 and 1986 Tour de France are a turning point in Greg LeMond’s and Bernard Hinault’s careers. It would define how they would later go down in history, pure and simple, although for one of them it is a starting point whereas it is more of a finish line for the other.

You see, I have a problem. I am both a Hinault and a LeMond fan. Many people don’t get that. They see these two as antagonists, with a good guy and a bad guy. I don’t. How come I didn’t create a “Bernard Hinault fan” page ? you might ask. It is a fair question. I’ll try and explain this the best way I can. I always saw Hinault as a father figure. Kind of bad ass, aggressive, the type you don’t want to mess with. And, for having spent an afternoon with him, I’ll stand by this (although he softened a lot with age and is ALSO one of the nicest people I’ve met). It is all true. By way of consequence, as much as I admire the guy, I don’t relate to him. He is beyond reach. I could never behave like him. I just don’t have this in me. On the other hand, I always saw Greg LeMond as a big brother. I think that, as unbelievable his achievements are, Greg remains, oddly, within reach. Not in terms of scale, of course, but in terms of style, of core values. No matter what you do, the way you do it matters a lot. Greg is/was a nice chap from the start, warm and friendly, yet able to transcend himself. A mixture of heart-on-my-sleeve candor and survival instinct. In short, Hinault always kind of scared me, LeMond always did inspire me. Still does, really.

To come back to the matter of this article, the 1985-86 TDFs are highly controversial and your point of view often betrays the amount of affection you hold towards either LeMond or Hinault. Race facts are, most of the time, irrelevant.

What’s my point of view ? To me, the results are fair. Hinault had to win in 1985, LeMond had to win in 1986. It’s only because they were in the same team and mainly because Hinault tried to act like a puppeteer that some people tend to think results were not fair. But they were. Here’s why.

In 1985, Hinault is in tough shape. He just won the Giro. He is the boss. He is dominant. For those of you who might be in doubt, I’m just giving this : in the first individual time trials only, the badger takes an advantage of 4’18 over Greg LeMond. It’s practically game over, at this stage. Because in 1985 Hinault is not showing any sign of weakness in the mountains. He’s riding with Herrera ! In fact, from the start of this Tour, positions on the team are made clear. Greg is here to learn and to act as a security blanket, in case something goes wrong. And indeed it does, when Hinault crashes hard, breaking his nose in Saint-Etienne. Had he not suffer such injury, I believe he would have won the Tour without any fuzz. No discussions. But because he is injured, suddenly Hinault cannot keep up. But, mind you, it is not a major breakdown where you lose minutes by the dozen, it is “just” a bad day.

It is the Luz Ardiden stage. Our friend Thierry told you all about this. In short : Stephen Roche, then 3rd in general classification behind Hinault, attacks. Hinault can’t respond. Greg follows. He’s doing his job : making sure the yellow jersey stays within the team. If Hinault collapses, Greg takes the lead. It’s ok. Things are covered. The La Vie Claire team is in control.
1985 controvery
I have a daily job. I teach young managers in retail stores how to manage their teams. One of the things I advise them to do is watch any medical TV series, say ER or Grey’s Anatomy. Apart from medical cases, what are the stories built on ? Communication. Or lack thereof : He told me this. She told me that. I didn’t know. You didn’t tell me. You should have told me before. You should have shared this with us.

You lied.

You’re not telling the truth. You’re hiding the truth.

Make all characters communicate and these TV series become boring (or more boring). The same applies here. The La Vie Claire team management deliberately lies to Greg LeMond to make sure he will not attack and take the yellow jersey. But what if they had just asked him ? After all, by covering Stephen Roche, he was just doing his job. Hinault was in danger, but there was a chance he could come back. And he did. Job done. But if there is one thing most human beings do not like at work, it’s having the feeling they are being manipulated. Especially when it is not for their own benefit. I know I don’t. Do you ?

And that leads us to 1986. Because, on the very evening of the Luz Ardiden stage, when Greg LeMond expresses his anger and bitterness for the lack of trust the team has placed in him, Hinault Koechli and Bernard Tapie know they are in danger. You might not know this, but very early on in his career, Hinault had set a date for the end of his pro-cycling days. His 32nd birthday. As a young rider, the badger had ridden against Eddy Merckx. But in his last few years, 76-78, the cannibal was a shadow of his former self. Hinault was kind of shocked to see the « best cyclist of all times » struggling to get a decent result. That image stuck in the mind of the young breton. « I’ll never put myself in that position ». Hinault leaving in 1986, the La Vie Claire team cannot afford to lose its best asset for the future of the team, Greg LeMond. A negociation occurs. And, as a thank you for his loyalty to the team, Greg LeMond is offered to be a rightful leader for the 1986 Tour de France. Hinault will serve as a captain, guiding the young american to victory. Except he can’t.

Wishful thinking, I guess.

To be totally honest, I think that Greg LeMond lost the 1985 Tour de France when he left the Renault team. Of course, the decision at the time seemed clever as it looked easier to assume co-leadership with a soon-retiring champion (Hinault) rather than a young, agressive and dominant winner of the last Tour de France, (Fignon, in 1984 had won by a 10′ margin). But that was before Fignon hurt his ankle and decided not to race the Tour in 1985. Just imagine Hinault/Koechli Vs LeMond/Guimard. That would have been an amazing race, but Hinault’s superiority in ITTs would have made LeMond’s task very hard, no matter what.

1986 is definitely not the same story. As I said, by way of his ITT superiority in the 1985 TDF, Hinault already had the Tour in the bag. 4’18. It is quite a gap. But in 1986 that gap has melted like snow under the sun. Only 65 seconds, all in all. Hinault is definitely not in the same position. Greg LeMond is much stronger. The badger, probably not as sharp as he was the year before. He was hardly seen during the spring. How come so many people think Hinault would have won the 1986 Tour if he wanted to ? Because of the stage leading to Pau. Bernie attacks without warning his « co-leader ». Opposition is very weak. The badger takes 5 minutes. Remember that afternoon I spent with the Badger ? It was on december 5, 2008. I asked him how he saw the return of Armstrong in the Astana team for the 2009, sharing leadership with Contador, Kloden, Leipheimer… Hinault told me this : “It’s pretty simple, really. Make a good ITT, then take the yellow jersey on the first opportunity, no matter what. Once you have the jersey on your shoulders, the other guys can’t attack you. That would make them look bad.”. I couldn’t resist. “Is that what you did with LeMond ?” I asked. “No, it was always 100% for Greg”. That’s his motto. But the Astana scenario is also precisely what happens en route to Pau. Greg LeMond’s hands are tied because he rides for the same team. He’s losing minutes. Adversaries are weak. They won’t budge. It’s 1985 all over again. No communication means Hinault can do whatever he wants. Had he discussed this with LeMond, there is no way he would have taken those 5 minutes, he would never have agreed to such a strategy. Had LeMond been in another team, there’s no way he would have let Bernard get away. Again, the badger takes advantage of the fact that he and Greg LeMond are wearing the same jersey. For his own benefit. He has nothing to lose. If he wins, he’s a french hero in french territory. If he loses, he is the heroic loser. You have to understand one thing about Hinault. If he sees an opportunity to attack, he will grab it, no matter what. His mistake was to make a promise he could not keep, by his very nature.

The day after, Hinault attacks again. 100%. For LeMond, remember ? Again : nothing to lose, if it’s a hit, it’s a 6th Tour win. If not, it’s a heroic sacrifice. Even his team mates are convinced that, in the back of his mind, Hinault was going for the knock-out. Only he couldn’t. For his legs wouldn’t follow. Greg eventually takes back most of those 5 minutes, winning the stage. And then some, a few days later. Yellow is his, he wins the Tour, but at what cost ? Hinault made everyone believe he had the race in the bag and gave it away. Nice.
86 controversy
To sum up : in 1985, Hinault was far superior in ITTs and did not show any weakness in the mountain before his crash. And even when he did, it wasn’t a major breakdown. He was able to manage his losses. That’s game over for LeMond. Lies spoiled the fun. In 1986, different story. Hinault grabs a few crumbs from ITTs, steals minutes in just one stage (Pau) and then loses time every day (Except for the Alpe d’Huez truce) Superbagnères, Serre-Chevalier, Puy de Dôme… He takes 25” back on the last ITT, but only because Greg crashes, has to change his bike and has a slow puncture near the end. That’s game over for Hinault, this time. Had they not been in the same team, he would have had absolutely no freedom of movement. In fact, I don’t believe Greg LeMond was ever as strong as in the 1986 Tour de France.

Both Tours were frustrating for Greg, that’s for sure. But to me, he learned one very important thing, the hard way. Handle pressure. Keep calm. Both Fignon and Chiappucci would agree LeMond certainly beat them from that point of view. So, maybe, in a way, Hinault was right. He wanted Greg LeMond to earn the Tour, by his own merits. Too bad he made it look different.

Morality : Communicate. Talk to each other. It will spare you lots of trouble.

Watch the interviews on our Youtube Channel video.

By Nicolas – NL_LeMondFans


3 thoughts on “LeMond/Hinault : the 1985-1986 Controversy

  1. My opinion about those both years is a little bit different than my friend Nicolas. I respect his, otherwise we shouldn’t have published this article. I think it is because I’m not an Hinault fan 🙂 .
    In my opinion you have to look to the whole 3 weeks of the Tour in 1985. Sure Hinault was the strongest. That’s what the time trials say. But after his crash it was Greg. No doubt about that. The Tour de France takes 3 weeks and if someone crashes and gets weaker, it takes part of the Tour. The final time trial at Lac du Vassivière proves LeMond was better. Maybe not at the start of the Tour but surely in the last week. If Greg had a “GO” from his team I’m sure he would have won in 1985.
    There is no discussion about 1986. Greg was the strongest. He only couldn’t show it because Hinault was the most aggressive. Greg was tight with his hands and could only watch the Badger get away from him. If Greg raced for another team, he would have been with Hinault. LeMond showed he was better by attacking Hinault to Superbagnères. It was the first time he attacked Hinault. He should have done it sooner. But team orders are team orders.

  2. I believe that in 1985 Greg was suprdomestique. But at the first moment Hinault was in trouble by the accident Greg immediately demanded he could go for it. Like Porte immediately can take over Froome’s position when the alter had an accident………..
    That showed the real LeMond!!! He wanted to be nr 1!!!! The team probably felt they had to lie to him about the positions and time gaps.

    In 1986 Hinault found himself in a very almost impossible position. He made a promise, or people made him make a promise that he actually hated. And Hinault is Hinault. So he tried to take his chances, although the attack after he took yellow was even for a champion like him suicide!!! We will probably never know why he did it that way. For Greg? Maybe the opinion of Nicolas comes close.
    Hinault shaked his “ugly head” ones again after alpedhuez. Greg was maybe too naive………. He grew into cycling beeing Hinaults protegé. He had everything to win, while Hinault on the longer terms had everything to lose. Greg couldnt clearly understand that Hinault behaved like he did, but Hinault had very mixed emotions i guess………………..

    I also believe that the very best Hinault was already gone in 1985 and 1986. In that era riders were “old” when they were 30+.

    To end this i will say i am a LeMond and Hinault fan. But i have the idea that Greg and Kathy feel theirselves very quick and easily victims of the situation. With Hinault, with Armstrong. Especially with LA they had a very very hard time, but still they give me the idea that they go too much into the victimrole.

    I love the new LeMond bikes…………but unfortunately they cost so much that only richer old dads can buy them 🙂

  3. After exchanging several tweets between Nicholas and me i will give here again my view of things with the “wisdom” of 30 yrs ahead in time, and after reading Slaying the Badger from Richard Moore and William Fotheringham’s book about Hinault.

    In 1984 Hinault was unsecure about his level in his last two years of beeing a rider and after “bumping” at a tremendous Fignon in the 1984 TdF he just looked for allies in the expected battle against Fignon (and Guimard) in the coming years.

    So former protegée Greg LeMond was hired for a good amount of dollars.
    LeMond looked up to Hinault as he did in the Renault years where the older experienced supercharismatic champion guided him in cycling in a way you coulc call a friendship.

    For Greg this relationship could only have benefits. Growing under the wings of Hinault, untill he was strong enough to be number one himself. Hinault would quit cycling at the end of 1986 so time was running out before Greg could be the nr 1.
    Both riders had a tremendous ego, and wanted to be the number one.
    For Hinault the relationship with Greg was one he could only lose at certain moment. The moment where Greg could beat him.
    For Greg LeMond the outcome looked only positive: when he could beat Hinault he was the natural nr 1.
    But take a step back and beeing second isnt a thing most champions like.

    In 1985 Hinault ones again beat the italians in the Giro d’italia, with Greg as superdomestic. When going into the Tour 1985 Hinault still was the natural leader, but Greg’s eagerness to be the rider on top must ve been even bigger as everybody thought.

    Everybody remembers Hinault giving Greg bonustime, going in a small breakaway in the stage to Pau, where Hinault crashed hard.
    The next day Hinault was in trouble with serious injury’s. Roche attacked and Greg followed, as he has to. But Greg wanted more. He immediately wanted take the topposition in the team, in a race where Hinault was beaten up but didnt crack for good. Imagine Chris Froome crashes, and the next day one of his teammates in top 5, immediately claims the topposition in the team because Froome is a couple of minutes behind? That would say there is no team, only ego’s isnt it? The team lied to Greg about positions and timegaps. I think they felt doing that because they tried to protect Hinault, because Greg was at the point of rebellion.
    There Greg showed his real face! A year later Hinault would show his.
    I believe that without the crash Hinault could have win 1985 Tour pretty comfortable with Greg as a solid second.
    In the aftermath of that Tour Hinault seemed to have made a promise to Greg that he would help him win 1986 Tour.
    I can understand Greg was very happy with that promise, also because he looked up to Hinault.

    In 1986 Greg first rode the Giro d’italia, where he ended up 4th (after a nasty crash and a not too mountaineus route).
    Iam convinced Hinault would have won that Giro if he participated. To say that Hinault always was a better and complete rider comparing with Greg LeMond.

    But when it came to a frontal confrontation, pure strenght in the mountains it could be another deal in 1986.

    Hinault was almost 32 and at the time riders were pretty at age at 31/32. Especially with the more complete seasons, and the powerconsuming ridingstyle of champions like Merckx and Hinault. Hinault was still good, but (as Guimard also said) not anymore the rider from before 1984.
    Hinault had one thing he could make up a lot with: his almost brutal mental strenght, even intimidating riders.
    His way of attacking around every corner could surprise rivals or teammates.

    Greg LeMond was never a rider that counted on brutal strenght. His riding style seemed more calculating. His benefit was he had some good friends in the peloton who later played his teammates in 1986. Hinault had many riders against him, who wanted to take him out when they finally had a chance. Ofcourse most of the frenchriders were pro-Hinault.

    When Hinault won the first ITT with 48 seconds or so on Greg he thought he was nr 1. Greg had a wheel and bikechange during the ITT, so showed how strong he was!!
    Good possible that Hinault even didnt want to see that.
    Then came the surprise attack from the badger with Bernard and Delgado. That showed Hinault was the better overall rider. Surprising his rivals and even teammates. But shouldnt he have warned Greg before? YES i think so.
    Especially when u made sort of a promise. The suicide atack of the following day said it all…..the whole La vie claire team was stunned seeing what Hinault was up to. The books i mentioned at the start say it all! Many riders and directors have the same opinion, even friends of Hinault: Hinault tried to finish it off ones and for all in a heroic way. But in 1986 Hinault wasnt anymore in 1979 and even then……. Going from so far was suicide. Greg only had to pick up the body before Superbagneres. Can you imagine Armstrong or Froome doing such a thing? Hinault tried to win but lost a almost secure win. Everybody knows how he explained after.

    The day after losing time due to a leg problem, Hinault tried to stir things up at the stage to the Alpe. That beautiful finish ended up cruel with Hinault declaring it was not over. I can imagine how Greg must have feel there. Now 30 yrs later maybe he would have answered with…..lets make a fight on the bike and we see who wins! But that was also Hinaults power: intimidation, and playing mental games.

    I believe when the 1986 tour started with Greg and Hinault in different teams, Hinault would have played all his cards. For Greg the task to acted as Fignon did in 1984. Even with a stronger Hinault in 1986 comparing to 1984 Greg must have been the winner because he could have taken time in the mountains. Could he be superior? Not necessarely, but he could have the better of Hinault that year.

    Did Greg made the wrong choice of team in 1985? Yes he did. I have an old paper dated 1989 where Greg says just for Chambery WC that he never would have going to Hinaults team.
    Guimard says the Hinault attack at the stage to Superbagneres was completely unneccesary and stupid. Guimard also said that Hinault leaving Renault had a lot to do with the fact that having two champions in one team would have lead to problems. Exactly what happened in 1986 TdF.

    What would be happened when Hinault made up his promise and obviously rode for Greg in 1986? To be honest iam afraid that Greg would have been riding lots at Hinaults backwheel.

    I regret that Hinault still sticks to his version of things. Would be nicer when he just says: i was confused about the promise, couldnt ride the Tour for second place (even French president called him at the start, to go for a win!) and just went for it.
    Would make him a greater man.

    I was a big Greg LeMond fan back in the days. I bought many stuff just because Greg used it! My local bikeshop was gratefull for that :). Now i think Greg is a nice and gentle guy that acts to much like calimero. He just sees himself as the victim i think. Although i can imagine that the behaviour of Hinault, the man he looked up to shocked him beeing a 25 yr old in 1986.

    Greg deserved the 1986 tour. Hinault went out beeing as popular he ever was. With Hinault ending his career cycling died a bit for me. Unfortunately Gregs accident didnt help either, with that tremendous comeback in 1986. I still have Gazetto dello sport the day after Gregs superb timetrial that changed gear forever.

    When i would meet Greg in real i know i cant resist to ask him about 1986! What an impact did that Tour make 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s