Sportsnight #16: 1986, Tour de France, L’Alpe d’Huez, LeMond v Hinault

by Charlie_East_West on July 17, 2013

Good evening, and welcome to Sportsnight. Tonight’s action comes from the French Alps and the fearsome L’Alpe d’Huez stage on the Tour de France.

As Chris Froome attempts to move ever closer towards becoming the second consecutive British cyclist to win the Tour de France, he has one massive obstacle to overcome – L’Alpe d’Huez. The most brutal and famous stage in Tour de France history. As it is the 100th year of the Tour de France, the organisers have decided to make it a wee bit tricky for its cyclists – they have decided to get them to climb up the fucker twice. In one stage. The is sporting sadism in the extreme. Tomorrow will be compulsive viewing.

L’Alpe d’Huez is the blue riband of the Tour de France. A brutal climb, hairpin bends, life threatening descents, bat-shit crazy fans packing the roads and running amok alongside the cyclists during their ascent to the top of the climb. The names of the Tour leaders are marked in chalk on the winding roads towards the summit. It is sport in its absolute rawest and most brutal of forms.

This stage became even more legendary in 1986. It became the iconic moment between the two most bitter rivals in the history of cycling.

- Greg LeMond, ‘L’Américain‘: All round cycling talent. The prodigious newcomer. 1986 was supposed to be his year.

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- Bernard Hinault, ‘The Badger‘: Aggressive, iconic, uncompromising, five-time winner of the Tour. He pledged his unwavering support to his team mate, LeMond.

The team is everything in cycling, but in 1986 the team orders rule book was torn up. It became the irresistible force verses the immovable object.

Hinault won his fifth Tour de France in 1985. Hinault’s La Vie Claire team recruited Greg LeMond for the 1985 Tour. In return for LeMond’s unwavering support through the 1985 Tour, Hinault promised on French television that he would support LeMond (Lemond became team leader in 1986) for the 1986 Tour de France. However, things did not exactly work out that way due to Hinault’s skulduggery.

The race for the overall classification became a legendary duel between Hinault and LeMond when the Tour reached the Pyrenees Mountains on stage 12. The stage from Bayonne to Pau saw Bernard Hinault and his La Vie Claire teammate Jean-Francois Bernard attack the team leader, Greg LeMond. The Spanish climber Pedro Delgado (and future Tour winner) also joined the breakaway. LeMond, completely taken aback by the move, was stuck in the peloton and forced to follow team orders not to chase a teammate’s breakaway. Hinault’s surprise breakaway finished 4 mins 30 seconds ahead of LeMond in third place. This gave Hinault the overall lead and the yellow jersey.

The next day featured the brutal stage called the “Circle of Death” in the Pyrenees Mountains). Hinault went on the attack again. Over the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, the first climb of the stage, Hinault broke away again and rode away by himself on the last climb. Hinault’s successful betrayal of Lemond was complete. Or so it seemed…LeMond fought back towards the end of the Pyrenees stages, and as the Tour exited the Pyrenees, Hinault’s lead was down to only 40 seconds.

When the Tour finally reached the Alps, Hinault went on the attack again. Hinault escaped the peloton between Nimes and Gap and forced LeMond to chase Hinault. When LeMond had managed to claw back Hinault, the pair were spotted having a massive exchange of views. Imagine the scene – it is 35 degrees in the South of France, a couple of blokes are cycling up mountains, one of them has reneged on an old promise and keeps charging off on his bike, and so when they come together – they end up having a bicker. I bet it was an absolute belter of a bicker. After this, the gloves were completely off, and the race became an all out no holds barred scrap for victory. Team orders were torn up, and when this happens, it is every man for himself. It became a personal vendetta between two cyclists. Fuck the team orders. It became a selfish pursuit for glory between two men.

LeMond finally overhauled Hinault by stage 17. LeMond launched an attack of his own and escaped on the descent of the Col d’Izoard. The time gain was enough for LeMond to take the yellow jersey off Hinault.

The culmination of this all time great rivalry occurred on the ascent of the legendary Alpe d’Huez – on this stage in 1986, Hinault made yet another gut wrenchingly uncompromising solo attack. It completely smashed the opposition – apart from LeMond who was with Hinault at the top. In a gesture of respect, the two riders reached the top holding hands, smiling manically, and LeMond put his hand behind Hinault to let the old champion finish first to claim the stage.

By the time the riders reached the end of tour individual time trial, Hinault needed to gain 2 mins 45 seconds to catch LeMond. Hinault was off next to last and rode brilliantly, finishing the course with a quick time. LeMond riding last (as he was in the yellow jersey), finished the time trial second to Hinault – but crucially, only 25 seconds behind Hinault to keep the yellow jersey.

Three days later, Greg LeMond rode into Paris to make history as the first American to win the Tour de France. Hinault finished second overall, winning the King of the Mountains Polka Dot Jersey.

The 1986 Tour is probably regarded as the greatest Tour de France of all time. I recommend Richard Moore’s Book – Slaying the Badger: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, which chronicles the tour and the bitter rivalry between the two men.

Tonight’s action features the stage of all stages on the Tour de France – LeMond v Hinault, L’Alpe d’Huez, 1986. Enjoy it. These were two of the hardest of men in the history of sport.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Elliott July 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Brilliant clip, completely mad Tour.

It’s going to be utter carnage today. In fact, it already is. Saxo Tinkoff are on the attack as they know they are running out of stages to close the gap on Froome. I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of riders miss the time cut today.

Twice up the Alpe d’Huez in one day. Madness.

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Charlie_East_West July 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Lets hope the rain stays away – so they can complete the whole stage.

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