Posts Tagged ‘bernard hinault’

Bernard Hinault

April 17, 2013

Words: Graeme Fife Photos: Gerard Brown

“The snow was driving so hard into our faces, on a crosswind, that we had to protect our eyes with one hand. We needed ski goggles. I couldn’t see a thing.”

Bernard Hinault talking after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Sunday 20 April, 1980. The race was 245 kilometres; after 70km, 110 of the 174 riders had already quit.

Approaching the feed station at Vietsalm, at 149km, Hinault told his directeur Cyrille Guimard that if it hadn’t stopped snowing by the time they got there, he was climbing off.

As if Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance herself, was eavesdropping, the sun came out. Hinault, being the sort of man he is, was obliged to ride on.

“I went to the front and started to go [roule] because that way I could get some heat into my body and legs.” (The French word rouler can mean to lick someone, as in a fight, or, in the slang, to stand on the pedals.)

He caught and dropped a small group of breakaways, and, 80km from the finish, he was on his own.

“My mind was blank – I couldn’t see anything. I was locked up in myself. I looked at the pine trees – everything was white. I was riding in the furrows left by the car tracks.”

He finished 9min 24sec ahead of Hennie Kuiper, his second victory in the doyen of Classics (Hinault had already won in 1977 and was second in ’79).

By the time Kuiper arrived everyone had gone – television and radio reporters included. It’s as cogent an example as there is of Hinault’s sheer class, his willpower – the rage à vaincre of which he’s spoken – and his style, the panache, the exploit, the dominating spirit, what he called “une morale terrible”.

“Since that day,” he said 30 years on, “I have no feeling in two of my fingers. As soon as the glass drops below eight degrees, I get a pain there.”

This is an extract from issue 19

Le Tour de Bore

August 9, 2012

Words: William Fotheringham 

Boring. Tedious. Monotonous. Predictable. That, according to some, were the words that summed up this year’s Tour de France. We had the first ever British winner but apparently that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t thrill a minute, seat of the pants, tension all the way stuff. Well that wasn’t how Bradley Wiggins lived it, if the few chances we had to exchange views during the race were anything to go by. He seemed to be having quite an intense time of it.

Concern that the Tour is boring is not a new phenomenon. In fact it’s a perennial concern. In 1952, the organisers increased the prize money for second place to liven things up as Coppi romped to victory. In 1970, they were aghast when Eddy Merckx took the lead early in the race. Further back, Alfredo Binda was famously paid to stay away from the 1930 Giro because, guess what, he was making it too predictable. Jacques Anquetil was criticised for it, so too Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Part of the problem is down to the nature of cycle racing on the road. An endurance sport is not always thrill a minute. Thrill a minute is an elimination race on the velodrome; the 20/20 to the Test Match that is the Tour de France. But while elimination races provide great entertainment they are rarely memorable in the longer term (unless Laura Trott or Willy De Bosscher is involved, but that’s another story). The other issue with road racing is team tactics, which are now so well honed that the outcome of many Tour stages is preordained until the (bunch) finish.

If we have expectations that the Tour is an edge of the seat ride, I blame Laurent Fignon, Pedro Delgado and Greg LeMond. It’s all their fault. Between them they created the most incredible Tour ever in 1989, with the Frenchman and the American swapping the lead time after time with never more than 53 seconds between them. I suspect that race has conditioned many people’s view of what a Tour de France should be. But it was a completely unique event, because neither Fignon nor LeMond was anywhere near their best form – both were fighting back from long-term injury of different kinds – and the big favourite Delgado set off with a 3min handicap by missing his prologue start time.

The 1989 race came two years after the Stephen Roche Tour – in which the Irishman ruthlessly hunted down Delgado in the final week – and three years after the most intrigue-filled Tour ever, the 1986 race in which LeMond and Hinault indulged in a hilariously theatrical battle with the glorious twist being that the pair were team-mates. That contest pitted a mentally strong but physically fading Hinault against a physically fresh but mentally fragile LeMond. Further back, the 1979 Tour was a thriller (ignore the 13min gap between Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk, 10min of which was added on afterwards when the Dutchman tested positive), largely because Hinault had a nightmare on the stage to Roubaix, losing three minutes after a puncture and a delay due to strikers on the course. He then hunted down Zoetemelk with the same ruthlessness Roche showed eight years later in his pursuit of Delgado.

These Tours are exceptions, however. Mostly, the race is a relentless process of physical attrition in which the first big physical test, be it a summit finish or an early long time trial, delivers a verdict that remains largely unchanged in Paris. On the whole the rate of physical deterioration in any stage race is a curve which remains the same for most of the protagonists, so in the final week it’s rare for a leader to be much better than earlier in the race. That’s why the classification is often fairly set and the gaps simply get bigger.

That can seem predictable but the fact is that there is so much else going on during the Tour that in my eyes it never is. This year’s ‘boring’ race had Wiggins calling the Twitter doubters “fucking wankers” (and worse), the tacks on a Pyrenean climb, the intriguing question of Chris Froome, and plenty more. It didn’t have the cut and thrust of the 1989 and 1979 races but few Tours do. Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

Extract from Rouleur issue 33. William Fotheringham is the author of Roule Britannia. A history of Britons in the Tour de France, the book will be reissued in October with new sections covering the 2012 race. 

Shake, Rattle and…

June 7, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland 

There was a Charge of the Light Brigade moment entering the first cobbled sector at Troisville. The dead straight road leading to the 2.2km opening stretch of the rough stuff descends gently, giving the rider sufficient momentum to freewheel briefly and take in the unfolding carnage.

Bodies to the left, bodies to the right, bodies in front. Cycling’s equivalent of Lord Tennyson’s doomed six hundred – or a fair few of them – had fallen at the first hurdle. The bi-annual event impeccably organised by VC Roubaix takes place in the summer, with (generally) correspondingly dry and mud-free conditions, yet a veneer of moist slime on the pavé was wreaking havoc.

Some hit the deck hard within yards of leaving the tarmac. Others struggled to hold a straight line and bounced, victims of their own transfixed stares, into ditches either side of the track. Bottles littered the ground; muddied riders surveyed their machines for damage, clasping bruised hips and sporting battered egos; one chap appeared to be heading for an early bath, destined never to experience the legendary utilitarian showers at Roubaix.

The previously jocular nature shared by our group of eight on the opening road section dissipated in an instant. Silence descended as we each focussed on a route through the chaos and wondered how the hell we were going to manage the next 160km without falling to pieces.

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred

The curious thing was we all emerged unscathed. Or maybe not so curious. Those with cobble experience had prepared the Roubaix virgins the night before. Attack the pavé sectors and recover on the road, they said. Keep the hands on the tops, nice and loose. Use the body to steer, not the bars. Ride on the central ridge and avoid the gutter, unless you can clearly see there are no hidden potholes lurking in the puddles.

And it works. We blasted through the sector and back onto tarmac, conversation returning in an excited babble as we re-grouped briefly – a big part of the enjoyment of the day, I felt: we were pretty evenly matched for speed and rarely had to wait around for long. Anyone in a big hurry could always find a faster group to latch onto but, truth be told, we were passing a lot more than being passed, especially on the cobbles. All those winters of cyclo-cross were finally paying off.

The choice of equipment was paying off, too. A ‘cross bike shorn with 28mm Conti Gator Skins, bar-top brake levers and gel inserts under the bars may sound like overkill, but worked to perfection. We pushed on, gaining confidence with every section of cobbles, passing the occasional water bottle, saddle pack or tubular, their owners presumably blissfully unaware of the loss.

The feeling of smug satisfaction with our progress was gone in a flash. The left-hand pedal, you will no doubt know, is designed not to come undone, due to its reverse thread. Well, mine did. At speed. On the cobbles. It was a hairy moment, pushing down on the crank and hitting stone with pedal, but I managed to keep it upright with an ungainly hop, skip and skid manoeuvre. The multi tool in my saddle pack had disintegrated into its constituent parts. Thankfully the rather better-equipped mechanic in our midst knew to insert the pedal from the reverse side of the crank to overcome the stripped thread situation – a tip well worth knowing – and we were back on the road. Anything not firmly attached to the bike (and even things that are) will rattle loose during Paris-Roubaix, so be warned: tighten up.

The infamous Arenberg Forest was looming large, just when we thought we had this thing licked. Jean Stablinski is the man to thank for this particularly fine (or gruesome, depending on your outlook) stretch of appallingly uneven stone. The 1962 World Champion and ’58 Vuelta winner was a former miner who had worked far below the dead straight road that starts by the pit gates, the tunnels apparently having a bearing on the subsidence of the cobbles. Quite why the great Stablinski thought it a suitable surface to run a race over is unclear. Presumably he could handle it.

I, for one, could not. The summer version we rode allows the luxury of leaving the pavé (or even skipping it altogether) for the adjacent cinder track. The ASO event in April, taking place the day before the race, will have barriers in place, leaving no alternative but to grimace and bear it. Everything you have heard about the Arenberg is true – with interest. I walked the length of it at last year’s Tour and close inspection brought home the random nature of the stones, misshapen rejects jutting out at all angles, cobbled together. Prepare to be shaken.

The consequences of cycling and taking murky substances are well catalogued. The risks are plain for all to see. A curious green energy drink supplied by the organisation looked like something Barry Manilow might sip at the Copacabana, so I plumped for the clear boissons énergétiques – and paid the price soon after. The rattling of the Arenberg speeded the evil potion through my system and I was crouched behind a hedge soon after. Sorry to be so graphic, but take your own tried-and-tested energy products or suffer the consequences.

Some determined chasing to rejoin the group and the remainder of the ride flew by, even the notorious Carrefour de l’Arbre – a totally different prospect on a dry, sunny summer’s day to a wet and windy April.

The comrades on wheels transformed to deadly enemies approaching Roubaix velodrome, attacks going on either side of the pavé, blowing the group to pieces before the famous, spine-tingling right-hander onto the banked track. Getting out of the saddle to sprint for the line and flumping straight back down again brought home the sheer exhaustion from an amazing day.

A beer or two, the ultimate in rudimentary showers and that all-important mounted cobblestone. It really does not get any better than this.

Follow the Badger: Part Two

March 10, 2011

Rouleur’s Guy Andrews and Ian Cleverly sampled some old-fashioned, mud-spattered Paris-Roubaix hospitality in the wake of the mighty Bernard Hinault. Andrews excelled and, while Cleverly groveled, he did learn a thing or two from the back of the bunch.

Photos: Wig Worland

You gotta roll with it
Riders possessing sizable thighs, shoulders and arm muscles (Hinault, Andrews) as opposed to worthless twigs connected to a slightly wider twig (Cleverly), will have a forward trajectory on the pavé. Those of a lightweight disposition, both physically and mentally, will surely bounce into oblivion unless fit and prepared to suffer. That would be me, then…

Attack, recover, attack, ad infinitum
Hit the cobbles hard to minimise disruption, then back off on the tarmac. We all know the theory that riding a rough surface at speed will reduce the jarring effect, yet many ease the pressure on the pedals as a default reaction. This is a mistake. Press on at all times when on the pavé and it will soon pass.

Tighten up
The first section of pavé will always result in somebody – usually equipped with one of those flimsy-looking carbon bottle cages – parting company with their bidon. Sure enough, a bottle bounced away into the surrounding fields within 50 metres. I noticed the offending receptacle a few miles further down the road, flapping around in the breeze, about to part company with the frame and bring its owner to a halt. Preparing your bike for Roubaix means tightening everything – and I mean everything – up. And ensuring your bottles cages are up to the job.

Gear up
Both Guy and I rode ‘cross bikes, all the better for mud clearance and comfort. Continental Gator Skins in a vibration-deadening 28mm were perfect – no slipping down the gaps between stones and grippy enough to make for a tumble-free day. We both fitted cross-top levers which, although rarely used, are reassuring when spending lengthy periods on the bar tops. Final modifications to my bike were gel inserts under the bar tape and a K-Edge chain catcher – an excellent little gadget that eliminates the possibility of chain derailment between frame and chainset. All in all, we got the equipment aspect spot on.

Shape up
Sounds ludicrously obvious, doesn’t it? Most rides you can wing it: a modicum of condition, stick to your own pace, and it’s possible to muddle through – even in the mountains. The cobbles are another matter altogether. They take every weakness and magnify it tenfold. Lacking strength? Five or six sectors into the ride you will start to flag. Bike handling skills not all they could be? Expect to be seriously challenged on the farm tracks to Roubaix. Heart (and head) not in it? Forget it.

Paris-Roubaix is not for everyone. But get it right and there is no ride I can think of that is so deeply satisfying; that gives such a sense of accomplishment when swinging onto the track for the closing metres of this legendary race.

Enter here if I haven’t put you off. That was not the intention: just want to make sure you know what lies ahead. There is just one month left to sort yourself out. Now, stop reading this and get on with it.

Follow the Badger

March 3, 2011

“You will never make me take back what I have already said about Paris-Roubaix. It’s a big nonsense!

Bernard Hinault, quoted immediately after winning the 1981 Paris–Roubaix.

Off the bike Bernard Hinault is a charming man. No doubting that. In his role at the Tour de France and similar major races he meets and greets sponsors, riders, journalists and special guests, always smiling and gracious. Nice guy, Bernard. On the bike he still has only one character – the minute he swings his leg over the cross-bar his persona reverts. Bernard Hinault is still Le Patron, not exactly the all consuming race-dominating Badger he once was, but he’s still a super fit alpha-dog of a man these days… It’s hard not to be intimidated.

To become a fan of cycling in the early eighties was to immerse yourself in the world of Bernard Hinault. He was the man you see, Le Patron. His famous victories were outshone by his ability to stand proud at the head of affairs and speak out for the riders or wade into striking farmers preventing he and his riding colleagues from doing ‘their work’. Fair do’s really, can’t argue with that. Even if you have the sympathy for the underdog, a race is a race and stopping it isn’t cricket, in France at any rate. Strangely I was never a ‘fan’ of the Badger. Being an avid follower of the fall guy or the scrapper, I was never drawn to his relentless domination of bike races, nothing personal – I just wanted to cheer on the less-championed. And anyways my distinguished colleague, Graeme Fife, did a marvellous job of getting into the Badger in issue 19 of Rouleur, so I shouldn’t go on too much, but needless to say Bernard Hinault is a legend and rolling into Erre in the heart of France’s hellish north, to line up alongside him to ride a section of Paris–Roubaix is kind of cool. What am I saying? This is going to be amazing.

Before I go on, please watch this. It is 1981, the year that the Badger won. He was in arguably one of the most perfectly formed Paris–Roubaix breakaways in history. Previous winners Francesco Moser, Roger De Vlaeminck and Marc Demeyer were joined by eventual 1983 winner Hennie Kuiper, who was fresh from victory at that years’ edition of the Tour of Flanders. The only weak link was Guido van Calster, who, nonetheless, was no slouch across the stones and anyway, who cares with that name? So make no mistake, this was a snazzy break. Resplendent in his rainbow bands, Hinault crashed out of the action in the final kilometres. For most this would spell disaster and yet he still furiously remounted, blasting his way back on and riding straight to the front of the break. The look on his breakaway companions’ faces when he makes contact says it all. In that moment Hinault clinched victory, the rest just knew it. It was the only time he would win the race but it demonstrated his key qualities; indefatigable, brutish and hugely self assured.

Of the main protagonists missing that day were one fall guy the rest of the cycling world adored: Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle. Now here’s a man I massively admire. If you want to see a rider with panache, who oozed style, look no further. Duclos was cool. One of the finest rouleur-baroudeurs the sport has ever seen. Famed for partying as hard as he rode, he was the smiling antidote to Hinault’s grumpy dominance – a crowd pleaser, the likes of which we have rarely seen since. I have a problem each time we are introduced though, I get a bit tongue-tied and can barely get past hello…  And here is the man himself at the start of the journalists’ recce of the stones to be ridden in April, telling us what to expect. I am all ears.

There are many things you need to know about riding cobblestones although here perhaps isn’t the space to start. I thought I had it down, but riding behind Hinault pretty much shows it all. It’s an education. Push a big gear, stay seated and fast, don’t switch suddenly, hold the bars firmly but not too firmly. Following his wheel goes further to explain the all-important positioning – stay in the centre of the road, on the crown of the stones as the edges subside and get really messed up towards the ditches. If you can move to the dirt (in February this is essentially mud) make it smooth and get out of the gutter well ahead of any obstacles. Keep your head up, concentrate. Never look away from the road ahead.

Moving up the line is unspeakably hard, so if a gap opens ahead it’s nigh-on impossible to get back on. Picking a line through and around the rider in front is like putting your head above the parapet (fitting, seeing as we are in the middle of a rather large ‘no mans land’) as picking a line over the rougher sections of cobbles is bonkers. Accelerating is necessary too and doing that uses a lot more power and effort than you’d think. Before long your legs and lungs are burning and you’ve only done one sector… there’s 12 more to come today. The sector at Mons en Pevele is downhill, but don’t stop pedalling as the bouncing upsets your balance and pedalling helps keep it. Mountain biking skills are handy here, as sideways bunny hops are terrific for getting out of the slush. The mud is slippy but it does smooth out the holes a little – having said that the car gets stuck and Hinault flicks off and stops for a piss. Maybe he knows something we don’t…

Before too long he’s back on the front and I’m beginning to feel like Guido van Calster. After three hours of hell we’ve thrown in the towel. Lunch is needed and the awaiting beer is all I can summon the strength to focus on. We stop in a restaurant and shower in the adjacent hotel, not quite the showers at the Roubaix velodrome, but just as welcome. As we all chat in the car park I notice that Hinault’s jacket is still immaculate and there’s barely a spec of mud on his face and I look like I’ve just jet washed a pig sty. Maybe the mud is scared of Bernard too. It’s a major final lesson learnt: always ride at the front.

For some reason Monday’s recce has changed me, besides the obvious honour of getting mud sprayed all over me by Bernard Hinault’s back wheel, I got back to London and rode home, in the rain, laughing at the pathetic pot holes around Elephant and Castle – and I’m thinking: has riding those sacred stones toughened me up? Maybe. Two days after the ride, as I type this, my hands still hurt. The vibration is a killer and Hinault’s huge farmer’s hands are clearly better suited to this work that my pathetic moisturised-soft-office-hewn digits, but weirdly, I’m quite liking the pain…

Paris–Roubaix is the best race on the pro calendar for me and it’s the only race that’s as tough now as it was ‘back in the day’. It was the first race I saw on TV, and it’s the only race I’d want to have ridden (in those plentiful daydreams about riding a bike for a living…) but even though we barely rode a third of the parcours, Monday certainly told us one thing: Paris Roubaix is stupidly tough and you have to be pretty stupid to want to take it on. As Chris Boardman once said of the race he always refused to ride: “It’s a circus and I don’t want to be one of the clowns.”

Guy Andrews is the editor of Rouleur magazine.

Photos by Wig Worland