Although Bernard Hinault was the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France (in 1985), the 53-year-old from Brittany, nicknamed ‘the Badger’ for his tenacity on and off the bike, hasn’t lost his fire. One famous quote from his racing days sums it up: “As long as I breathe, I attack.”
Now a public relations man with Amaury Sports Organization (ASO), which runs Paris-Roubaix and the Tour, Hinault, on the podium in Nantes while Stage 3 winner Samuel Dumoulin was receiving his applause, once again found himself in the position of breathing and attacking. A French protester hopped on stage before Hinault, dressed in ASO-issued blue blazer and khakis, adroitly shoved the man off the podium and into the arms of a waiting gendarme.
That, my friends, was a moment to remember. He’s not called the Badger for nothing!
According to a posting on Hinault’s Wikipedia page, the five-times Tour winner was prominent in a riders’ strike at Valence d’Agen in the 1978 Tour to protest against split stages, in which the riders had to ride a stage in the morning and another in the afternoon. He also imposed discipline and often cooperation among riders, once decreeing that “there will be no attacks today because tomorrow’s stage will be difficult”. He was respected by riders but feared by many for his temperament. If he felt slighted by another rider he would use his strength to humiliate the offender.
To the public, Hinault was often arrogant, remote and shy of publicity. When an interviewer suggested he devote more attention to fans, Hinault replied, “I race to win, not to please people”.
Belgian Eddy Merckx, who retired in early 1978 after winning the Tour five times, was so dominant that most in the peloton feared the one they called ‘the Cannibal’. But not Hinault. No, the Frenchman, making his Tour debut that year, when asked if he feared Merckx, responded: “He has a head, two arms, two legs, just as I.”
Now the world knows why Greg LeMond, a teammate of Hinault’s in the early and mid 1980s, couldn’t sleep much during the 1986 Tour. One just has to wonder if the French protester realized who he was messing with in Nantes Monday evening.