bernard hinault, also affectionately known as the badger, and greg lemond were two of the strongest riders in the pro peloton back in the mid-1980's. in 1984 french businessman bernard tapie created the la vie claire team with paul koechli as director. the team included bernard hinault who had left renault-elf-gitane the previous year after team mate fignon had won the 1983 tour while hinault was injured. lemond was then poached a year later from renault on a record one million dollar contract. with hinault and lemond at the helm plus an all star supporting cast including andy hampsten, jean-françois bernard and steve bauer, la vie claire was undoubtedly the strongest on the planet and went into the 1985 tour with hinault as favourite to win the overall classification.
moore picks up the story prior to lemond and hinault being on the same team and takes the reader through what felt to me like a boxing machine fought between teammates who should really have been fighting for each other not against each other although it was hinault rather than lemond who was throwing the most punches. a similar incident that springs to mind is when lance armstrong and alberto contador were co-leaders with astana during the 2009 tour. did armstrong pledge his allegiance to contador as hinault had undoubtedly done for lemond? lemond had helped hinault to a then record equally fifth tour victory in 1985. during that tour hinault had told lemond he would help the american win the 1986 tour. it was a promise he would arguably break.
moore was fortunate enough to be able to interview both lemond and hinault as part of his research for the book in addition to interviewing a number of the other la vie claire team members including director koechli plus hampsten, bauer, bernard and team soigneur shelley verses. moore's research extended further still to interviewing other key players such as closest rival urs zimmermann who finished third in the race. there is no doubt that moore draws from strong first hand evidence gained in his many interviews in order to justify his facts and opinions. he achieves this with an immensely entertaining flow bringing incite and attention to detail previously never written about the 1986 tour before, at least not in an english language publication that i am aware of.
the overriding feeling i take from reading this book is that hinault's intentions were always to look out for nobody other than himself. hinault made it extremely difficult for lemond to take his first victory, so much so that lemond would rather hinault had been riding for a rival team than supposedly helping him to victory as a team mate. lemond was made to feel so vulnerable by hinault that he became ultra paranoid and weary of everyone involved in the race with the exception only of his family and the small group team mates he knew he could trust. the intrigue this creates plays out like the story line of a far fetched soap opera, only this story really happened.
whether you know the story of the 1986 tour or not 'slaying the badger' will certainly open the readers eyes to many nuances and subtleties surrounding the relationship between hinault and lemond and how the race played out amidst the charged and emotive atmosphere of one of the most high profile sporting events in the world. was the 1986 tour the greatest ever? in order to make an informed decision this book should really be considered a must read.
'slaying the badger' by richard moore is published by yellow jersey press.