Guest Article: Anatomy of a Photo: The Rise and Fall of the Badger
If we were meant to fly, Merckx would have given us wings. But he did give us two wheels and Physics. The first allows us to feel like we’re flying, and the second gives us the propensity to fall over and, as such, crashing – or the fear of crashing – is the constant companion of a cyclist. Our first experiences on a bicycle as a child probably involved a crash; if not on the first ride, then at least on a ride soon thereafter.
But crashes also help forge legends, as was the case in 1977 when a young upstart, Bernard Hinault dropped into a ditch at high speed. I’ve seen this photo before, but I’ve never seen the video (below) and therefor never had an appreciation for how deep and steep the ditch really was. Hinault is indeed lucky to be alive.
Alpin continues his V-Blitzkrieg by treating us to a Frenchman’s view of Le Blaireau and his incredible fall. Enjoy.
Yours in cycling,
The 63th edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné has just finished. At this time of the year it’s traditionally the warm-up for the Tour and many top racers came here years after years.
Many of you must already know this picture. It was taken the 4th of June 1977 at 15h22 in the last hour of the 6th stage of the Criterium in the rapid descent of the Col de Porte en Chartreuse to Grenoble. Just under the Col de Vence there is a very treacherous and sinuous part of the road at 11% which faces the valley a half mile below.
Even today after having take this corner time and time again, one cyclist must take extra care on this very spot: the surface of the road is a little better but the danger stays the same.
In France, this picture is entitled to fame for many reasons:
- For a start, well, it’s good photography.
- Secondly, it’s historically the first time the name of Bernard “The Badger” Hinault made the headlines in France and it immediately transformed him into an icon of the sport.
- Thirdly, the event of the incredible fall was live televised, then rerun in loop for days, with one of the first usage of the telephone for a Live interview of Bernard Hinault at the hospital.
- Finally, it’s the epitomization of epic: a combination of danger, tragedy, doubt and heroism…no less. Yes, he’ll get another bike, will finish the descent at insane speed, will get on with the last climb of La Bastille at 18% with some corners over 25%, put his feet off the bike, claiming his exhaustion, re-mounts the bike, forced by his DS, pushed by some locals, gained some energy at last before the summit of this terrible ascension, and by accomplishing that will allow himself to win the stage and his first Dauphiné the day after. Now that’s The V personified for me..
Perhaps some details of this picture interrogate some of us fellow cyclists: no helmet, no glasses, no cycling cap, no visible cuissard, nor cycling shoes or even a bicycle. Only the rear pockets of the jersey and the gloved hand pointed to a spectator could indicate that here’s a cyclist.
Maybe, this other photograph of the event coming straight from the historic live footage could help me to illustrate my point:
There is something missing.
Something that doesn’t put me at ease at all.
Nothing to see there
The two pictures exemplify for me the intimate connection between the cycling racer, the road bike and the road of the race.
Here you can see neither nor bike or road, it’s in the absence of the two that demonstrates the Unheimilichkeit of this event. The sheer tell of speed and danger. Hinault hadn’t hurt himself so badly that he couldn’t take the start the day later but as he said repeatedly and humbly to cameras:
I thought I was dead, I thought it was the time.
You can see the video footage of the Fall and Rise of the Badger here at the Archive for National television ( INA). The title of the film is “La Douleur et la Gloire”.
Or, on Youtube with modern commentary added.