Anatomy of a Photo: Hunchbacks of the 81 Tour

Anatomy of a Photo: Hunchbacks of the 81 Tour

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My friend and trainee Velominata Rachel has a keen cycling eye and an inquisitive mind. While perusing the book Tour de France/Tour de Force she happened upon this image of The Badger, Bernard Hinault, sprinting for a stage win in the 1981 Tour. We know this because the caption says so. And that is pretty much all it says; no other names, no photo credit, nothing.

Of course, I wanted to know who the other protagonists are. Some research into that year’s race, and the Wickes-Splendor team pointed to one of the riders being Eddy Planckaert, who won Stage 12 (*Part B) into Zolder. The other one though? Could it be old bro Walter? (Not likely, he finished way back that day.) Sean Kelly was on the team too, and was always up for a bunch gallop, but of course it looks nothing like the Irish hardman (his legs are uglier than those, says Rachel. And by ugly, I think she means awesome). No, my hunch is it is Guido Van Calster, as he took fourth on the stage that we whittled it down to. *Stage 12 was broken into Part A (Roubaix-Brussels, 107 km) and Part B (Brussels-Zolder, 133 km), both raced on the same day.

While not really interested in who the other riders were, the thing that stood out most to Rachel was the strange lumps on the riders’ backs. Not Camelbaks (because that would violate Rule #32, and they weren’t invented yet), probably not race radio transmitters (not sure if they were around then either). Not bidons (too square), not food (why have food stuffed down your jersey in a sprint?), so what the hell could they be?

Once again, we trust in the Velominatii to decipher the clues, and feast on the pure awesomeness of another great photo.

// Anatomy of a Photo // Folklore // Nostalgia // The Hardmen

  1. The lumps are sponges. I think around that time it was one of the rules that on hot days you put cold sponges on hot days!!

  2. @spangelsaregreat
    So you’re saying that day was possibly hot enough to be “sponge worthy”

  3. probably, the badger tended to set most of the rules

  4. Yup – sponges soaked with water. All the rage of the ’81 Tour and the bane to photographers everywhere.

  5. Eddy Plankaert on the left of course, but then a Velominati should know that.

    Nothing more to add other than to comment on the “pure Awesomeness” of that photo and those riders

  6. Sponges! Of course! Nice one Spangels, welcome to the fold…

  7. Yes, that is Van Calster (40):

    http://www.letour.fr/HISTO/fr/TDF/1981/partants.html

    The official Le Tour website has a very nice bit of historical data for each year, including start lists: http://www.letour.fr/HISTO/us/TDF/index.html

  8. What a cool-ass picture. Down-tube shifters engaged into GO mode, in the drops, the scent of the kill is all over these guys. The look in the Badgers eyes gives me the shivers.

    I’ve known about this picture for, I’m guessing, 25 years now. Which means I’ve been wondering what the fuck those lumps their jerseys is for, I’m guessing, just on 25 years.

  9. Sponge worthy indeed…but no, I have a different answer for the humps. The photo, in poster size, is in my LBS back on the East coast of the US. I have looked at it over the years and was struck by the humps too but it wasn’t until I was really hauling ass once when the light bulb went off.
    When really speeding along, Eddy Planckert-racing-that-hostile-French-fuck-Hinault-sprinting-speed*, a turbulent flow behind the head lifts the jersey off the shoulders and it flaps! I believe we are seeing the jerseys flapping and the camera freezes the flap. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    *What a photo! Think how fast these guys are going, faster than I will ever go on flat roads, faster by such a huge margin.

  10. Caption: ‘As the sprint came into the finale at Notre Dame, Esmeralda was mightily impressed’ ?

  11. @Dave Harding

    Nice one Dave!

    Interesting to note also, the previous stage to the one in question was from Compiegne to Roubaix, essentially throwing in a mini Paris-Roubaix into the race! Duclos-Lassale was 2nd, with Paul Sherwen 5th!

    @ben

    Thanks for the link Ben, could’ve saved me a lot of fucking around if I’d known about it earlier!

  12. Great photo.
    I’m voting for the sponge explanation. Flapping in the wind would not generate such a uniform rectangular shape, or the stretch marks that you can see on the jersey of van Calster.

    Another remarkable aspect of this picture is that Eddy Planckaert is wearing gloves. In my book, he is one of the true hardmen of all time. He almost never wore gloves. I still recall one of the spring classics around that time when, in Belgian springtime fashion it was sleeting and everyone was suffering but Eddy was riding hard, without gloves. An inspiration to me still when I go on winter rides, 30 years later.

  13. The picture was taken by John Pierce (of Photosport International).

    At the time, all the other photographers said he was mad for attempting the shot as it’s so difficult to take this type of photo from the angle he was at – if I remember he said he was stood at about 100m from the lines – but it was the photo that let him break the big time.

    The humps are indeed sponges. John said it was about 37c that day with very little wind.

    As an aside, John used to have an amazing collection of bikes including the Vitus that Kelly won the Vuelta on (he’s great friends with the Kelly man). I’ve not seen him for a few years, but he’s a great guy with some great stories.

  14. From what I’ve read about this photo (I might be wrong): it is not a stage finish, but an intermediate sprint (hotspot). It is also 1982 not 1981.

    The bit about the sponges is right though.

  15. I think I read somewhere that the sponges were soaked in cologne to further cool the riders.

  16. When else have you seen a Tour de France GC contender going for it in the sprints? Only Le Blaireau, I think.

  17. @F. Maertens
    Merckx and Hinault have won both the Tour and the Green Jersey, but Kelly was, provided the parcours wasn’t too hilly, in the hunt for both for a few years in the 80’s. Gilbert looked like a contender for the first fortnight of the Tour this year, and was mixing it up in the gallops. Very cool to see them do that.

    I’m also browsing through some of my older cycling books and up to 1990, you saw GT contenders riding Roubaix et al. Riders were more well-rounded even as recently as that, and I think that was a really, really cool thing.

    Merckx, in one of those books, comments that he never started a race he didn’t want to win. That’s why he’s the Prophet.

  18. @frank

    @F. Maertens
    Merckx and Hinault have won both the Tour and the Green Jersey, but Kelly was, provided the parcours wasn’t too hilly, in the hunt for both for a few years in the 80″²s. Gilbert looked like a contender for the first fortnight of the Tour this year, and was mixing it up in the gallops. Very cool to see them do that.
    I’m also browsing through some of my older cycling books and up to 1990, you saw GT contenders riding Roubaix et al. Riders were more well-rounded even as recently as that, and I think that was a really, really cool thing.
    Merckx, in one of those books, comments that he never started a race he didn’t want to win. That’s why he’s The Prophet.

    Also, I think that Phil Anderson might qualify. Didn’t he finish top five (V) a few times and he seemed to sprint for all stages as well.

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