Slaying the Badger Doc of the Week

Slaying the Badger

US cycling legend Greg LeMond helped team-mate Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault win the Tour de France in 1985. The following year was meant to be LeMond's turn, but Hinault had other ideas and reneged on the deal. The result was what many still consider to be the best Tour in history. BT Sport 1, Sun, May 13th 01.45

Following revelations of Lance Armstrong’s drug cheating and subsequent disgrace, Greg LeMond stands as the only non-European professional cyclist to win the Tour de France. Rated as one of the greatest exponents in the history of the sport, the California native won the Tour three times (1986, 1989 and 1990), with his second and third victories coming after suffering near-fatal injuries in a hunting accident. He also won the prestigious Road Race World Championship twice (1983 and 1989).

But back in 1985 LeMond was just a ‘domestique’, a secondary or ‘servant’ rider on the La Vie Claire team under the man of the moment, Britanny-born Bernard Hinault. ‘The Badger’, as Hinault was known, was the greatest cyclist of the age and, along with Alberto Contador, remains one of only two people to win all three races on the Grand Tour (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana) more than once.


Renowned for his steely demeanour and fiery temper, in 1985 Hinault was racing for his fifth Tour crown. What happened next set the scene for a truly epic encounter the following year.

Controversial

Hinault won the 1985 Tour, but in controversial circumstances. LeMond could have claimed victory for himself, but obeyed team orders and protected Hinault when he could have pushed home his advantage in the Alps. The American later claimed that team bosses had lied to him about how far back Hinault actually was. Both they and Hinault promised to make it up to him the following year by helping him to his first Tour win, but the Breton saw the chance of a record sixth win and rode aggressively from the start. It forced LeMond to take matters into his own hands and, with the aid of team-mate and compatriot Andy Hampsten, he produced some truly heroic stage rides before finally claiming a remarkable victory.

This epic story is superbly documented in Englishman John Dower’s Slaying the Badger. Based on the book of the same name by Richard Moore, it depicts an increasingly paranoid LeMond taking other riders’ feed bags in the feed zone and blaming crashes on sabotage.


Hinault, meanwhile, declares that his aggressive tactics are designed to frighten LeMond’s rivals and clear his path to victory. He is completely unapologetic for his actions. Asked by a reporter why he attacked his own teammate, he says: “Because I felt like it. If he doesn’t buckle, that means he’s a champion and deserves to win the race. I did it for his own good.”

Director

Dower explains why he was drawn to the subject almost 30 years on and why it still resonates with him to this day. He remembers watching events unfold as a teenager in London as he and his friends sat glued to their television sets day after day. “As a sport few understood, the Tour de France was our secret, like following some incredibly cool underground band,” he explains.


“LeMond was a novelty, the first American to break into the sport, and for someone who had grown up in suburban London gorging on ‘Columbo’ and ‘CHiPS’, the fact that he was from California made him even more exotic. He also happened to be brilliant, perhaps the most naturally gifted rider the sport has ever seen.

“In 1986, LeMond was still a naive Tour de France youngster and would be up against the fearsome Frenchman and five-time winner Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault. It didn't disappoint - they went head-to-head in a race of unparalleled heroism, treachery and spectacle. What made it all the more remarkable was they were on the same team.”


Memories of that epic drama were fresh in Dower’s mind when he happened to be interviewing the author for another piece he was working on. Later, after several hours of chat and a few bottles of Burgundy, Moore remarked that his book on the events of the 1986 Tour would make a good film. That was all the prompting Dower needed, saying later: “Some films take years to get off the ground, some just a few glasses of great wine.”

This is one of the great sporting stories that will be remembered for as long as the Tour de France is held. Truly remarkable stuff!

Pictures: Getty Images

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