Great Cyclists of the Tour de France: Bernard Hinault
One of the legendary personalities and riders in the history of the Tour de France is unquestionably Bernard Hinault. Hinault was known as much for his outspoken and occasionally stubborn demeanor as he was for his considerable talent. His talent was incredible, as he won 28 stages of the Tour de France in his illustrious career. He was a gifted time trial rider as well, as 13 of his stage victories came from individual time trials. He won five Tour de France victories in his career, which only four other cyclists have ever done.
Hinault was born in 1954 in France, and became a professional cyclist 20 years later, in 1974. Two years later, his mentor, Cyrille Guimard helped teammate Lucien van Impe, to a victory at the 1976 Tour de France. Hinault respected Guimard and listened to his advice by skipping the 1977 Tour de France in order to gain more experience. In the 1978 Tour de France, it appeared that the move paid off, as Hinault overcame the Netherlands’ Joop Zoetemelk in the final time trial stage to take the yellow jersey. Hinault went on to win by 3 minutes and 56 seconds.
In the 1979 Tour de France, Hinault repeated as champion, defeating Zoetemelk again, but by a much larger margin of 13 minutes and 7 seconds this time. Hinault had won three stages of the 1980 Tour de France, and looked like he could win his third overall yellow jersey in a row when a knee injury forced him to withdraw. Zoetemelk was able to take advantage, winning as his rival was forced to sit out the finish.
Hinault made his return to the Tour de France in 1981 a triumphant one, as he won four stages and wore the yellow jersey for 18 days as he won his third Tour de France. He recreated his original accomplishment of winning two in a row by doing so again in 1982, winning three of the later stages after getting off to a great start in the prologue, and wearing the yellow jersey for 12 days in the process.
Unfortunately, Hinault was again unable to pursue a third straight Tour de France victory, as his knee problems sidelined him again. Hinault was unable to change gears effectively, and took the 1983 Tour de France off to have the problem addressed. In the next year, Hinault returned to the Tour de France, finishing second but at 10 minutes behind leader Laurent Fignon.
Then, in the 1985 Tour de France, Hinault made his last appearance in the victor’s spot at the podium, as he won while famously racing with a black eye sustained in a crash. He devoted his final Tour de France appearance in 1986 to assisting teammate Greg LeMond, although Hinault’s sometimes aggressive racing led many to question whether he was trying to win the race himself. Hinault relinquished the yellow jersey to LeMond after 16 stages, though Hinault would still go on to win Stage 18 and Stage 20.
Shortly after his second place finish in the 1986 Tour de France, Hinault retired. The always respected and often feared competitor would remain involved in cycling for years to come as a part of the race organization team for the Tour de France, but he will always be chiefly remembered for his incredible five wins. Also, Hinault is exalted for never finishing below second place in any of the years that he completed the entire Tour de France.
It’s also noted that had he not suffered from knee problems during the prime of his impressive career, Hinault could very well have won anywhere from five to eight installments of the Tour de France in a row. Luckily, even though Hinault was occasionally hampered by injuries, cycling fans all over the world still got many chances to be witness to his greatness.