"Hinault, Hinault" went the chants of the crowd packing the roadside of the Pyrenees. It's 1986 and the Badger has won the hearts of the French public in his final Tour de France with a death or glory approach. To add to the drama, his chief rival is a teammate, American Greg Lemond, aiming to become the first American to ever win the Tour. The battle that follows is the stuff of legend and stories told around the fire.
Hinault’s record of ten Grand Tour victories is second only to Merckx's eleven Grand Tour victories. Hinault joined Merckx as the only riders to win all of the classifications in the Tour de France (overall, mountains, and points jerseys). Hinault’s record of 28 stage victories in the Tour is also second only to Merckx. He won 7 stages in the 1979 race and 5 stages in the 1981 race. Hinault’s record of over 250 professional victories, including 52 time trial victories, is impressive. Hinault was also an accomplished one-day rider and won the World Championship Road Race and a total of five victories in cycling’s monuments.
But there is more to Hinault than his final Tour and a palmares matched only by the likes of Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain and Lemond himself. Equally interesting is that this farmers son from Brittany was an innovator and leader of change in many ways. He was a tech innovator, leading the way into clipless pedals with the Look pedal in 1985, and embracing the latest trends in aero bikes and helmets. He was also the leader of the riders strike at the Tour 1978, protesting medieval conditions and treatment. It is hard to conceive now the dreadful accommodation, food, transfers and general conditions riders faced even into the 1980's, and Hinault led the charge to a better world for riders.
Equally, Hinault and infamous French entrepreneur, Bernard Tapie, led the change in the structure, budgets and presentation of teams with the foundation of the fabled La Vie Claire squad in 1984. An extraordinary mondrian inspired jersey changed the look of cycling overnight, while the team was managed and coached by Swiss genius Paul Koechli, who took the science and coaching of cycling into the modern era. That story is worth a piece all of its own! Once the team hit its stride, it was unbeatable at its peak and began an evolution in the cycling teams that Sky is the current successor to.
Respected, feared, admired and in the end adored, Hinault was the last true patron of the peleton and the most recent French winner of the tour. We won't see his like again.
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