Hinault’s Promise to LeMond: I will help you win the Tour

Bernard Hinault Promises Greg LeMond the Tour de France“Next year it’s you who will win the Tour, and I’ll be there to give you a hand.” — Bernard Hinault to Greg LeMond

Last year, Hinault made a surprising pronouncement to Jean-Paul Brouchon of Miroir du Cyclisme. “I’ll stir things up to help Greg win, and I’ll have fun doing it. That’s a promise.”

The timing was in some ways as interesting as the pledge; Hinault hadn’t wrapped up the 1985 Tour yet.

But it was also revealing in another way. It seemed to be an implicit acknowledgment that he wouldn’t be on the brink of claiming his fifth Tour without LeMond’s help. For Hinault, that was quite an admission, while his apparent pledge to sacrifice his own ambitions—and forgo a tilt at a record-breaking sixth Tour—was even more significant.

On the penultimate day of the 1985 Tour, LeMond won the time trial by just 5 seconds over his dogged team leader—an astonishing performance in the circumstances. The gap between the leading pair on general classification was now minuscule compared to some of Hinault’s previous winning margins, at just 1 minute 42 seconds—with Roche almost 3 minutes further back in third—but it was enough, with only the ceremonial final stage to go, to see Hinault safely to Paris in yellow.

It was easy to forget, meanwhile—given that LeMond was riding his second Tour, and was set to follow third overall in his debut with another podium appearance—that the time trial represented his first stage win. It also represented another small piece of history: the first ever Tour de France stage win by an American.

That could offer one explanation for the fact that LeMond struggled to believe his achievement. As he waited at the finish for Hinault—who started 3 minutes behind him—he kept repeating to reporters, “Bernard’s won; he’s won. Bernard’s won; he’s won.” Was this a lack of confidence in his own ability, or the conviction—hard-wired into his psyche after so long in the shadow of Hinault, not to mention the three weeks of a Tour that threatened in the later stages to alter the balance of power in their relationship—that the Badger, through crashes, a broken noses, and bronchitis (not to mention the heartache of a smashed pair of Ray-Bans), would always prevail in the end?

When Hinault crossed the line, in a time slower than his, LeMond’s fist shot up, punching the roof of the caravan in which he was now sitting. Hinault was the first to congratulate him. And then LeMond spoke to reporters. It seemed that an enormous weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Now I know I can beat Hinault,” he said. “I know I can win a Tour de France.”

According to our man in France, Richard Moore, LeMond says unequivocally that Hinault did make a deal for 1986. In 1985, after stage 17 in Luz Ardiden, La Vie Claire owner Bernard Tapie brokered a “peace deal.” It was intended to appease LeMond, furious at having been told to wait for Hinault earlier in the day after going clear with Stephen Roche on the Col du Tourmalet. As LeMond has said, “I was going to quit after that stage.” But that night, in the hotel, “Tapie and Hinault both agreed that night that he’d work for me the next year.” And so LeMond remained in the race.

Hinault’s account is different. Hinault says the deal was struck not in Luz Ardiden or on the podium but when they went out in Paris, as a team, in the evening. “It was on the last night of the Tour,” says Hinault, his gaze steady and firm. “I told him, ‘Next year, it’s you who’ll win the Tour, and I’ll be there to give you a hand.’ I said it to Greg, and the press then found out.”

With the title verbally handed over to LeMond, Hinault has raised expectations for his teammate at the upcoming 1986 Tour de France.

Yet the cycling media is skeptical. Here are this week’s headlines from around the cycling media:

Miroir du Cyclisme: “Hinault-Fignon: Legend and Glory”
Cyclisme Internationale: “On his way to a sixth victory?”
L’Equipe: “Hinault for the Tour Record”

Even the Badger’s word may not be enough to win the Tour.

As LeMond finishes his pre-Tour training, Richard Moore has heard the sunny Californian LeMond described as appearing “fragile as a racehorse.” Moore’s colleague Francois Thomazeau describes LeMond: “Skinny legs. His upper body is very thin. You always have the sense that he is on the verge of breaking. He is always on the brink, on the cusp of something.”

If enjoyed this passage from Slaying the Badger, you’ll love the award-winning book by Richard Moore! Slaying the Badger recounts in incomparable detail the extraordinary rivalry between young American Greg LeMond and his teammate, the legendary French rider Bernard Hinault, at the 1986 Tour de France. This article is a replay of the 1986 Tour de France created by VeloPress using passages from Slaying the Badger, the archives of Velo-news magazine, and race videos from YouTube. VeloPress published “race reports” from the 1986 Tour de France during each day of the 2012 Tour de France. VeloPress is pleased to archive this 1986 Tour de France replay for your enjoyment.