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It is now two decades since Bernard Hinault won the last of his five Tour de France titles, and there is no immediately apparent prospect of a rider emerging who will end that unprecedented lack of success for the host nation. Over the past couple of days, French daily L'Equipe has been reflecting on this issue and on the greatness of Hinault, who, as you would expect for a man known for his straightforward approach, has some blunt thoughts on what has gone wrong over the past 20 years for French cycling.
"When I retired [at the end of 1986], I thought that the next French win would be within four or five years," admits Hinault. "There was Jean-Francois Bernard emerging and I thought that he was going to take up my mantle."
So, asks L'Equipe, what has gone wrong over the past 20 years?
"I don't exactly know," confesses Hinault. "Perhaps French riders don't have the physical capacity. Perhaps they don't do all that they need to. And the federation also needs to review what it has done. I don't understand why they pay 'cadet' riders to take part in races, and I don't understand why they take them away from their home teams to compete in national divisions, which discourages volunteers from staying in the sport and also leads to races disappearing. If I was a directeur sportif at that level, I would not operate like they do now. I would pay kids for the results they got. It always worked like that when I was riding."
Asked if he can see his successor yet, Hinault bluntly replies in the negative. "It's up to them to show themselves. I've been told about a lot of riders who should be champions, but I am still waiting to see them emerge. I can't see a French rider who can win the Tour. But what they need to do is to follow the example of Virenque at St Flour last year, or of Voeckler. He's not got a huge engine, but he gets results because he knows how to fight. Moncouti needs to learn to ride on the cols as one of the leaders, because when you are behind already, you are only able to pull back time which you have previously lost."
Hinault reflects on French droughtClose
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