Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lemond, Hinault, and Hampsten

There is an excellent piece over on Belgium Knee Warmers about the Greg Lemond/Bernard Hinault rivalry The backstory is that they were teammates in 1986, and during the Tour de France, their team - La Vie Claire - fractured in two as both Lemond and Hinault went for the yellow jersey. Hinault had pubicly vowed to work for Lemond in thanks for Lemond's work for Hinault's victory the prior year, but I guess the Badger was going for his sixth yellow jersey. Alliances were formed, teammates were chasing down each other.

The piece is a straight-up interview with a man who was in the ring with Lemond and Hinault - Andy Hampsten, who, at one point during the race, was told by their director sportif, "there is no reason this team doesn't want you to win the Tour! Greg and Bernard are fighting over who gets to win, and having you take the jersey will stop them arguing." Hinault's efforts still left him 3 minutes behind Lemond's yellow jersey when the Tour finished - which more than anything is probably a testament to the strength of La Vie Claire, that they were able to fracture and still hold off the rest of the peloton.

The blog entry links over to Hampsten's story of suffering over the Gavia (another Hampsten write-up, in pdf), which I just read about in Bob Roll's memoirs/stories/anecdotes, Bobke II. All are excellent narrative of thhe brutal, brutal race that gave us one of the more iconic images from 80s racing as Hampsten took 2nd in the stage on his way to a Giro victory that made a handful of Europeans respect a handful of Americans. In bike racing! Imagine that!

Hampsten's disarming nice-guy charm makes me like him a lot - as does this video, where we get to see Hampsten and his 7-11 team at the height of fashion, rocking some extremely-1980s shades, and some sweet 80s time trial bikes - bullhorns, disc wheels, and curiously sharkfinned aero helmets. Hampsten looks like a cool customer and it's a nice glimpse into where the aero technology was at the time. Side note: I saw this on craigslist. What a beauty.

Anyway, this whole La Vie Claire story really makes me wonder about Lemond. Recent news about him - trashing Trek (of which Lemond Cycles was a subsidiary), trashing Lance, insisting on his cleanliness while bashing suspected dopers - makes him seem really bitter, and now he's kind of remembered as a great racer who turned into a scowling old man yelling "Get off my lawn!" at just about everybody who's ever made him mad. He seems full of anger, full of grudges. I guess I can see why - were it not for several tough breaks, his career could have truly outstanding, memorable for generations rather than just dominanat in that era. There's a difference, of course. There are people who are on top for a few years, and then there are people who forever are remembered as only ever being on top. Merckx is the pinacle of the latter category; but due to a series of misfortunes, Lemond was relegated to only occupying the former. Being reigned in to support Hinault when he could have won in '85, having to fight Hinault to win in '86, missing two Tours de France while recovering from getting shot in the back in a hunting accident (and still winning it two more times afterward), and then retiring after a few years of deteriorating performance, citing mitochondrial myopathy, and later, overtraining.

I wonder if Lemond looks back on his career and thinks, what if. What if I hadn't gotten shot, what if I had a whole team working its ass only for me for seven years. Or how about eight? What if all those hucksters hadn't started doping. I wonder if all the what-ifs lead him to see himself where Lance is. I wonder if he is victim to that mentality of the other winners, for whom second place is just the first loser.

Well, it's all in the past, and amateur-hour psychoanalysis isn't going to make much of a difference.

Ride hard.


  1. Great post with some very cool links!

  2. Greg Lemond brought a lot of grief on himself too with his f--- everyone attitude. Take the photo you have posted above... that was taken on the climb up Alpe d'Huez in 1986. If you watch the footage, you'll notice that at the same time GL is complaining unceasingly about BH's not 'working for him' in the press, he doesn't take a single pull at the front of that entire climb. He just sat on BH's wheel the whole way up. I think the fact that BH went on to win the Coors Classic later that same year in the US was his way of poking GL in the eye and proving that he could still beat Lemond even (or especially) on his home turf. GL = a great bicycle racer. BH = a great cycling champion, IMO.

  3. I understand Lemond's frustration, but it's also true that he had lots of great chances to win during the 1982-86 period and he didn't capitalize on many of them. Lemond was a very talented racer but didn't quite have the same animal intensity of an Hinault or an Armstrong. When he won, he did it by follwing the right moves, timing his moves right, etc. He rarely ever pulled off the kind of Merckian total victory that Hinault and Armstrong were capable of.