I’m not particularly fond of this photo, but it certainly tells you a thing or two about Le Blaireau. A man more comfortable speaking with his appendages than with words, he was patron of the last peloton that truly represented the working class sport that cycling originally was; one where riders escaped a tough life of manual labor and meager means by pursuing life on the bicycle (one of tough labor and meager means). The hardest man of a generation of hard men, the Badger was as cuddly as a fistful of rusty nails.
By my last count, there are more images on The Googles – both old and new – of Hinault assaulting people than there are of him riding a bike. A fiercely proud man, he once threw a young Phil Anderson’s bidon to the roadside after Phil deigned to offer it to him in a sporting gesture. In his first grand tour of his career, he lead a rider’s protest because they felt mistreated. A few years later, at the 1984 Paris-Nice, he beat up a guy (pictured) for leading a protest by shipyard workers who felt mistreated. He’s been tackling people ever since.
He was also, as most champions are, fiercely competitive. As team leader, he forced LeMan to wait for him in 1985 when he faltered and his young American teammate was up the road in the winning break, threatening to take the race lead. In return, he promised to work for Greg the following year. Then, in the 1986 Tour, when it suddenly appeared he might be strong enough to win for a record sixth time, he promised to work for LeMond so long as he beat him first. Not exactly a man of his word, then.
So here’s to Bernard Hinault, a fucking asshole. But an awesome asshole. And, while not pretty, lets remember that assholes perform a vital function.