Book Review: Slaying The Badger By Richard Moore
One of the more interesting stories in the Tour de France 2012 was the threat of a couple of young apprentice riders overtaking their mentors in the standings. Most notable was the strength of Team Sky rider Chris Froome, evident on at least a couple of the steep mountain stages as he actually pulled away from pre-race team leader Bradley Wiggins with relative ease. Similarly, last year’s GC winner Cadel Evans had to release his young Team BMC apprentice Teejay Vangarderen to defend his Best Young Rider jersey when it was evident Evans was too ill to compete for the yellow jersey against Wiggins. Much beer and ink has been spilled over the question of whether Teejay should have been set loose earlier and maybe earned a podium position, and especially if Team Sky should have backed the stronger Froome instead of sticking with Wiggins. Coming years will tell if Teejay and Froome were having the rides of their lives or if they are indeed the riders of the future.
As the 1985 Tour de France ended, similar questions were being thrown about by cycling fans about young American Greg Lemond and veteran French winner Bernard Hinault of the team La Vie Claire. Lemond had been signed as a future star and potential winner of the Tour, while Hinault was nearing the end of his illustrious career. But in 1985 it was evident at times that while Hinault was the assigned team leader that all the others were expected to support, Lemond was riding stronger in the mountains, at times having to be held back by the team to preserve Hinault’s top GC standing. Could Lemond have won in ’85 if he’d been set loose? We’ll never know. What we do know is that Hinault promised at the end of the ’85 Tour that he would work the next year to support Lemond as team leader. Or did he?
Click through and see how journalist Richard Moore exposes this powerful story…
The cycling team La Vie Claire had been formed under millionaire owner Bernhard Tapie as Bernhard Hinault’s support team, in essence. Hinault had been a previous winner of the Tour, but his mercurial personality (his nickname, which lends itself to the title, is The Badger, and animal famed for its ferocious attacks) tended to alienate team directors, and really the only way to avoid conflict was to form a team around him that could be molded to his needs. Such slavish dedication is rare in competitive athletes at the elite level, so naturally this didn’t go completely to plan. Greg Lemond was brought in for the 1985 season to learn under and support Hinault while being groomed for future team leadership himself. But Hinault’s denial of Lemond’s obvious strength in the 1985 Tour didn’t set well with the upsurging Lemond. Whereas Hinault was the consummate continental traditionalist, Lemond, as one of the first really successful American riders in Europe, tended to do things his own way, embracing new techniques and equipment (he was among the first adopters of “clipless” pedals and aero handlebars for time trial stages, for example). Homesick Lemond even had his wife Kathy fly over to accompany him to some races, and fed on his favorite Mexican food at times between race stages (which didn’t go so well for him, and those who had to follow him in the peloton, one of many juicy stories Moore recounts in this book). Outside of cycling organizers wishing to tap into a new North American cycling market, few in European cycling welcomed this American and his new, even offensive, ways.
So what did Hinault promise to do for Lemond in the 1986 Tour? It seemed pretty clear from his statements that he was going to do all he could to support Lemond winning the yellow jersey, but as time went on he qualified his original statement, alternately offering himself in service and then casting doubt on how loyal he’d actually be. The team was ripe for division, with American Andy Hampsten, along with Canadian Steve Bauer, aligned naturally with Lemond. A couple of riders were Swiss (as was team director Paul Kochli), and, true to their nationality, remained relatively neutral throughout the Tour, at times seeming to support the remaining riders, who were French like Hinault, and at other times backing Lemond at critical moments. Added to the mix was Hinault’s rivalry with Laurent Fignon, who raced for Cyrille Guimard, team director at Hinault’s previous team, and you get a powerful, suspenseful mixture of tensions and motivations for all the major players.
Richard Moore, a former racing cyclist, has written a deep, searching exploration of what actually happened at the 1986 Tour, what happened in the years leading up to it, and who the major players were in what turned out to be arguably “the greatest Tour de France,” the subtitle of this book. Moore interviews both Hinault and Lemond at length for this book, along with many of the other people who were directly or indirectly involved in this story. Moore’s goal is to get to the bottom of the story, separating truths from untruths. Everybody seems to remember things differently, and people’s stories sometimes change and contradict early statements. In Moore’s able hands, what emerges is a complex, multifaceted web of a story, told eloquently (as only Brits, inventors of this language we share, can). The story is rich and takes more than passing concentration, but the payoff is a terrific story, well told. Race fans will love getting all the detail of race action, backed with strategy and analysis, framed in a complete back story. Perhaps some day the story of the 2012 Tour will be told just as well!