“A gentleman,” it is said, “is someone who can play the bagpipes, but doesn’t.” The instrument in question is sometimes substituted for another but the sentiment remains the same. Mark Twain went with banjo. Tom Waits preferred to prejudice the accordion.
I have long been inclined to say the same of time trialling. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the skill of those who do it well, or believe it doesn’t contribute something vital to the test of an individual rider’s all-round ability. I don’t think it shouldn’t be performed at all. Just preferably not in public, you know? Fax me the results. I’ll wait by the Amstrad.
Colour me surprised then, when, of the myriad reasons I might present to support Bernard Hinault’s claim to the Cycling Hall of Fame, the one I keep being drawn back to is his success as a tester.
It doesn’t get talked about much for, I suppose, fairly obvious reasons. It doesn’t really fit with the image we have of him as a snarling, subterranean carnivore.
There’s a reason “As long as I breathe, I attack” is the quote that ends up on a mug and not “I made sure to get the pacing right. It was important not to go too fast, too early.”
Yet Hinault’s prowess against the clock contributed as much to his career as the more marketable manifestations of his manhood.
But across his five Tour de France victories, Hinault won 15 out of 18 individual races against the clock. His hit rate is superior even to that of Miguel Indurain, who only managed a measly 8 out of 10. (Didn’t they do a lot of time trialling back then?)
The control and composure he could command contre la montre were a complement, not a contrast, to the teeth-bearing bark of the Badger. Both sides showed that what Hinault had more of than any rider of his day, and more than any of his countrymen since, was a preparedness to do what was necessary to win the Tour de France. No, spending hour after solitary hour building up the power and honing the position isn’t fun. But you know what’s less fun, or at least should be, for a professional cyclist? Losing.
Whether he gets there this year or another, that Le Blaireau belongs in the Cycling Hall of Fame is impossible to dispute. His losses are more legendary than many riders’ wins. His image is the one that immediately springs to mind when someone even mentions the idea of the Patron. Tales of his personality have filled a fair few of our pages over the years and we’re not finished yet.
In my view, the best reason for voting for Bernard Hinault is the simplest and rarest of all: he might not be much of a gentleman, but he was a Frenchman who could time-trial.
Over the coming months the Rouleur team will be making the case for each of the 18 Cycling Hall of Fame nominees. Vote for Hinault – or any of the other nominees – below.