Today’s stage 12 to Pau saw Bernard Hinault launch a sneak attack on the overall favorites.
With Fignon, Roche, and Anderson knocked out of contention, there is arguably only one favorite whose Tour ambitions were torpedoed by Hinault’s attack: Greg LeMond. But LeMond, growing ever more anxious, was in an impossible situation. He could not chase his own teammate. He could only sit behind his other rivals and watch and wait for them to take the initiative, growing more and more frustrated as they appeared reluctant to do so.
“I’m sitting there,” said LeMond, “with the TV cameras and the photographers on me, and Hinault’s riding away. No one’s chasing him, and I can’t. It’s crazy.”
In Pau, LeMond finished in a state of frustration and confusion. He admitted to reporters, “It’s a very confusing situation to me. I’d rather quit the Tour than get second again.”
And yet it was Hinault, who had taken the yellow jersey and now had a commanding lead of 5 minutes 25 seconds over LeMond, who seemed angry.
“Hinault found out I had been chasing him down with Lucho Herrera, and on the finish line he was almost punching me,” said LeMond. “He was asking, ‘How dare you chase me down?’ We almost had a fistfight right there. They had to hold him back.
“The thing is,” continued LeMond, “I was riding incredibly well. But Hinault and I . . . we’re tiptoeing around each other. He seems to have this idea that whoever won the time trial [in Nantes] would win the Tour almost by default because our team is so strong. Psychologically I think he’s convinced himself of this. But he hasn’t said it to me. And, after the time trial, I didn’t really make a big deal of the flat tire or broken wheel, but I think Hinault felt he’d beaten me fair and square.”
“I should’ve just chased him,” LeMond continued. “As soon as I realized he was away, I should’ve chased him. Eventually I thought, Screw it, I’m going, and I went and took Lucho Herrera with me, and we pulled back a minute and a half by Pau.”
“I mean, I waited till everyone else had been dropped, and I took Lucho Herrera, who’s not going to win the Tour. And Hinault was pissed at me! And that’s when I started realizing, holy shit . . . and I started piecing everything together.
La Vie Claire Jean-Francois Bernard’s presence in the break with Hinault has fueled LeMond’s suspicion. He wonders if the escape was planned—if, within his own team, a French conspiracy is at play.
“Hinault taking Jean-François with him put Greg in a pretty good bind,” says Steve Bauer. “He really had Greg on the ropes there.”
Steve Bauer continued, “We were all at the front, we were in control of the race, total control, and [Hinault] used that to his advantage by attacking. After he’d gone, we were looking at Greg, thinking, Oh, shit, what do we do? Greg was pretty frickin’ upset when he realized what was happening; he figured he might have lost the Tour right there.”
But LeMond slept well last night.
“I was able to sleep,” said LeMond, looking relieved and then determined. “The objective tomorrow is, I’ve got to make the time back.”
“Hinault’s gonna pay.”
This coverage of the 1986 Tour de France was adapted from Richard Moore’s new book Slaying the Badger. For more on cycling’s most extraordinary rivalry and the greatest ever Tour de France, please find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online.