From fans. For fans

The Story behind the picture (3)


Number 2 was Hinault

Hinault – LeMond … You know THAT stage. There are so many pictures of that day and yet, I’ve had no trouble picking this one. I came across it a few years ago in a random book about the “Tour de France finest hours” or something like that. It did strike me because I had never seen it before and that, in itself, is quite astonishing for I have collected those kinds of things for a long time now.
TDF86 Alpe
I like this picture because it gives another point of view on that stage. We are so used to seeing Greg and Bernard arriving together, no rush, all smiles, their opponents (or may I say “opponent” as Urs Zimmermann must have felt very lonely on that very day) being lost a handful of minutes back … It almost seems easy. I said almost.

This picture shows both riders in the valley leading to Bourg d’Oisans, at the foot of the mountain. They’re fast, and they’re clearly not smiling. They give everything they have because they know it IS the big break. The one from which no adversary will ever come back. Now it’s just them, they’ve set themselves apart from the rest of the crowd. But was there ever any doubt they eventually would ?

What do we see on that picture ?
Apart from the 2 best riders of the 80’s, you mean ? We see a typical 80’s jersey, worn by the badger. It the “combiné” jersey, which existed from 1985 to 1989. It was supposed to be a classification taking into account all the other classifications : yellow, green, polka dot jerseys, as well as the now extinct red jersey. Greg LeMond won that jersey twice, in 1985 & 1986. In fact, on that particular day he was already in the lead of that classification but as he was already wearing the yellow jersey, number 2 on that classification was asked to wear it. Number 2 was Hinault.

It almost seems like those 2 riders are not even from the same team, except for… their bikes. These are the first ever carbon frames to have made it to the Tour. They were made by TVT and labelled as “Look” bikes although at the time they weren’t.

Greg LeMond is wearing a pair of world champion gloves. An habit he kept from 1984 (when he was wearing his first WC jersey) to 1989 (when he won his last WC title, he was actually wearing such gloves when he crossed the line in Chambéry). Unfortunately, these have become increasingly difficult to find for the collector. If you find a pair, send me a message.
Alpe gloves
By 1986, this is also the end of wool jerseys. In 1987, Stephen Roche would be the last rider to win the Tour in a wool jersey. As good as they looked and felt, these jersey were not too good when it came to printing a sponsor logo overnight. Through the years, there has been multiple examples of such logos falling off during the race. Here, you can see the “Toshiba” logo on the side being ripped off. Not very professional, is it ? Nor is the fact that someone forgot to iron the Coq Sportif logos on Hinault’s shoulders. There, I said it. The badger’s jersey looks like crap. If you happen to find it, spare yourself the trouble of keeping such an atrocity and send it to me 😉

What don’t we see on the picture ?
Bernard Tapie, of course. Owner of the La Vie Claire team, he had the responsibility to have one of his riders to win. Results are impressive : the team achieved places 1 (LeMond), 2 (Hinault) and 4 (Hampsten) on the general classification of the 1986 Tour de France. But these results hide the story. For most of the race, Bernard Tapie wasn’t sure of how he could handle his riders. Having LeMond to win was interesting to penetrate the US market with Look products, whereas a 6th win for Hinault would have set a new record for that race. Both options were interesting. So when Hinault took the initiative by attacking first, he did let things go. When LeMond made a spectacular come back and eventually took the yellow jersey, he did let things go. So what happened at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez climb, when it became clear that the victory would be either Greg or Bernard’s ?
Tapie LeMond and Hinault
Well… Nothing really happened. They both neutralized each other. You have to understand it was a win-win situation : by taking the lead in the ascent, Hinault would prove the world he was the front man of the Tour, if not the yellow jersey. He was passing on the torch to his teammate. And by doing so, he built an illusion of control. “If I would, I could…”. By letting Hinault take the lead in the climb, LeMond was winning the Tour and the hearts of the crowd. At that time, the LeMond camp was getting paranoid about having someone poison Greg or punch him on the side of the road. Bernard was now a bodyguard. And an efficient one. Greg simply didn’t need to destroy the Badger to prove his point. He was already comfortably in the yellow jersey.

Many people seem to see this stage as the 1st step into a new “cycling-business”, where economics prevail instead of sport. That’s 100% bullshit. They fail to realize that both Hinault and LeMond, on that particular moment, had made a conscious choice, and were enjoying it. Their smiles are not fake, they’re spontaneous, believe it or not.
Alpe arrival close
For the past 3 decades, both riders have been discussing that stage. And they have evolved. At first both felt the need to convince people both of them were superior and could have destroyed the other. It’s only very recently that they acknowledged it had been a good fight, and the best had won. In 1986, that was Greg LeMond. Number 2 was Hinault.

By Nicolas – NL_LeMondFans


4 thoughts on “The Story behind the picture (3)

  1. Wonderful work, as always. As to the picture, the duo were “turning the screw” as Hinault would say, when they were riding through the valley. Prior to the two final climbs, they had given Zimmerman the illusion that he could possibly come back up to them (he was a bit of a yo-yo time wise throughout the stage). Croix De Fer (I believe), and the valley were where the LVC boys decided to end Zimmerman once and for all.

    LeMond was deferring to Hinault’s tactical expertise throughout the end of the stage, but he still did not trust him. Hinault’s attacks earlier in the day (and indeed earlier in the race overall) had not been discussed with LeMond. It was clear that Hinault was not happy with being in 3rd place and would do something, but his early attack (given what happened in Pau) was a threat to LeMond and was not discussed with him. This resulted in him being chased down and could have resulted in his complete marginalization had LeMond not stayed with him. Hinault’s attacks were suicidal not only in the short term, but the long term. His pending retirement allowed him to take physical risks he would never take otherwise. Throughout the 86 tour, he engaged in the riding style of his youth (pure power) which took a severe toll on his knees. He was spending significant time back at the medical car getting attention for his tendenitis and a case of pink-eye.

    After he retired, Hinault gave up cycling entirely (he considered it a vocation, not a pleasure). He devoted himself to his investments, promoting the Tour, and his farming (some might argue that this was his true love). He returned to riding after he retired from farming (to keep physically in shape). Hinault kept looking for a decisive moment in 1986, and it never came. LeMond, though physically capable, was not the type of person to publicly destroy a friend. He never left Hinault gasping on the side of the road, though it appeared that he could have on several occasions.

    BTW, with regards to the paranoia over mechanical failures and food poisoning, LeMond had in fact been advised to be wary by the tour organization. These were not his own suspicions, but real dangers that he was warned about.

    Happily, it seems that the relationship between Hinault and LeMond has thawed a bit over the years. Even though LeMond was only a 3 time champ (as if that isn’t an amazing achievement, and also merely a matter of back luck that he wasn’t a 5 time winner), he was included in last years closing ceremonies in the car with the 5 time winners. The Armstrong affair, if anything, has brought the two together. Hinault, officially, just wanted Armstrong to go away. LeMond on the other hand was the lone voice of reason in a sea of pro-Armstrong publicity. The two now are literally trying to restore the Tour and cycling to its past glories. They are great men. They were champions then, and they are champions now.

  2. Hello gdkzen,
    Feel free to contribute more often as you’re absolutely right about all this. I believe it is Felix Levitan who warned Greg about a possible threat that lead Greg to put his finger prints on his urine samples and take a snapshot of the bottles… Hinault made it hard for him but I strongly believe that’s precisely what made Greg so “cool” during the 1989 TDF. That drove Fignon mad and made him loose some precious energy on mad attacks (Marseille) or ego attacks (Superbagnères). Anyway, great stuff.
    I absolutely love both Greg and Bernard. I was lucky enough to spend some time with them and just had a blast. They’re very generous with their time and always wear a big smile when telling their stories.
    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I get my info from many sources. I think that the finest literature on the matter is Richard Moore’s book “Slaying The Badger” (in which my comments are included in the latest addition – tooting my own horn here:)). Now if I could only meet Greg just once in my life!

    I think many things changed by 1989. LeMond’s brush with death was probably the most influential factor in the way he dealt with the 1989 race. He really just wanted to finish. As his results continued to be better than he had expected (though, notably Guimard felt that LeMond’s final TT performance in that year’s Giro, indicated that LeMond was finally coming on form.) he recalibrated his goals. First he wanted to finish, then he wanted a top 10 performance, then a top 3, then the win.

    Much is made of LeMond’s embrace of technology in 1989, but that is really irrelevant considering the latest research about the helmet that he wore in the Versailles time trial. Whatever benefit the aero bars offered him, was probably negated by the poorly designed Giro aerohelmet. LeMond’s 1989 victory was based upon (as you have noted), his attitude. His philosophy that the race must be competed all the way to Paris, was what differentiated him from Fignon and Delgado. Fignon (publicly, at least) acted like the race was over for days. Delgado appeared to have given up. When LeMond saw how casually Fignon was moving about prior to their start times in Versailles, he thought to himself “You’re gonna lose.” (re Fignon).

    What few people realized until later was that Fignon was suffering from saddle sores that had become so bad that he could not sleep, and could only sit on the saddle of his bike with medical aid (completely OK, it is a saddle sore after all). He also made his own dumb technological decisions. He and Guimard had the aero bar option, but chose not to do it. They even protested LeMond’s use of them on the final day (based upon official requirements regarding the number of contact points on the bicycle). Given that Guimard had not protested earlier in the race, and that he was given the option to use the aero bars, the decision was made that LeMond’s use of them would not be barred. Fignon also elected to put a disc wheel in front as well as the back. That meant that he would be endangered by crosswinds, and carrying around extra mass forward of the bicycle/human combination’s center of mass. The result was that he was in a constant struggle for control of the bicycle. People remarked that it looked like he was having difficulty keeping the front wheel on the ground and under control. It appeared that his saddle sore made it very difficult for him to handle a bike in a full crouch, and the front wheel just made it worse.

    In the end, one might consider 1989 to be a 1984 rematch (as 1986 was a 1985 rematch). This time, LeMond was not suffering from bronchitis, had tours worth of experience, and had already been a tour champ. Were it not for his hunting accident, nobody would have considered LeMond to be anything but the favorite in 1989. As it was, it was the greatest comeback in cycling history (official now that Armstrong’s fraud has finally been exposed).

    • Agreed. My view is that by 1989, as you said, Greg kept re-calibrating his goals. In fact, he had nothing to loose. He was not afraid of anything. Being alive and back on his bike in the TDF was already a victory after that hunting accident in 1987. On the other hand, Fignon had spent the last 5 years trying to prove 1984 was no accident. In 1984 he thought his victory was just the beginning of a decade of world domination… only it wasn’t. He kept struggling, winning a lot of significant races but not the Tour. By 1989, Fignon was desperate to come back to being the best rider in the world. So when Greg proved to be a difficult opponent… I really think that, not only Fignon did not like LeMond, but he really thought Greg was a lesser rider. A lazy, rich, media-friendly arrogant prick. Being beaten by Hinault would have been ok. But not by Greg. And Greg did it twice in 2 months in the most important of races… in France. Fignon never quite recovered. He felt humiliated.
      You’re totally right about Richard Moore’s book. I think there is a documentary coming out. Since we have the first edition, we don’t know who you are :-S
      You can write to us at

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