Today’s stage 21 was a hilly one that finished atop the Puy de Dôme—the spectacular dome-shaped volcanic plug in the Massif Central. The Puy de Dôme is a climb of rich symbolism and incident, where Hinault had fancied claiming his first yellow jersey in 1978, where Eddy Merckx had been punched in the kidneys three years earlier. This year, the mountain’s role is to perhaps allow a challenger to make one last, desperate bid for the yellow jersey.
Hinault led up one of the early climbs, the Croix de l’Homme Mort. But there was a different air about him. He rode with authority, as the patron, but the large group of riders bunched comfortably behind him indicated that the pace he was setting wasn’t ferocious. Hinault was controlling rather than igniting the race. He wasn’t trying to drive a group clear as he had done in the Pyrenees. His goal now seemed more modest: to stay at the head and arrive at the summit first to collect points to consolidate his lead in the King of the Mountains competition.
LeMond kept his loyal teammates Bauer and Hampsten in close attendance, acting as watchdogs, following their master as he moved around the peloton, trying to keep him among the first 20 riders, where it was safer and he could remain vigilant.
In fact, it was Hampsten, not LeMond, who had a problem. A puncture saw him drop back for a wheel change. Yet as he remounted his bike and began to chase, Hampsten was joined by teammates Alain Vigneron and Charly Bérard, who had dropped back when they saw he had a problem. Now they were helping him recapture the peloton. Given the division there’d been in the team, Hampsten was a little surprised, pleasantly surprised. “Hey, thanks,” he told them.
“Are you kidding?” Vigneron responded. “Your fourth place is worth 45,000 francs” [to the pool of money split by the team after the Tour.]
As they began to climb the Puy de Dôme, past an enormous banner that read, “Hinault—6 Tours,” the lead group began to splinter.
Hinault conceded his place at the front. With his job done and his King of the Mountains title secure, he began to slip back. At the summit, LeMond finished among the leaders, in 17th. Hinault came in 34th, 52 seconds farther back. As he approached the line, he eased up, stood on the pedals, and stretched his back. It indicated he wasn’t concerned about losing a little more time.
It was his way of running up the white flag.
Today’s race report was adapted from Richard Moore’s new book Slaying the Badger, an incomparably detailed and highly revealing tale of cycling’s most extraordinary rivalry and the greatest ever Tour de France. Find the book in your local bookstore, bike shop, or online in print and as an e-book: