During the early miles of Stage 12 from Bayonne to Pau, the peloton rode calmly, saving their legs for the first major climb of the Tour, the first-category Col de Marie-Blanque, until something unexpected happened.
“It was superhot,” recalls Andy Hampsten. “And early on, on one of the first climbs, Hinault was really working to drive a group clear. Over the top of the [Burdincurutcheta] climb he was really driving, and I thought, That’s a little weird. There was a long way to go. He wasn’t attacking, he was just riding a really hard tempo on the front.”
“I asked Greg, ‘Why’s Hinault doing this? Did he talk to you?’ And Greg said, ‘No.’ He had no idea why Hinault was riding so hard; it was like he was on a mission. So I went to the front and hesitantly said to Hinault, ‘Eh, I’ll do that if you want . . . but, um, why are you riding so hard?’ And Hinault was supergruff. I don’t even know what he said.”
After this skirmish, the race calmed down in the valley roads approaching the Col de Marie-Blanque. Or that is the impression. For in fact it is here, not on a climb but on an apparently inconsequential section of road, when few are paying attention, that Hinault lights the fuse. He slips clear in the company of two other riders, with a fourth making contact as daylight opens up back to the peloton.
The move catches LeMond off guard. Hinault’s attack came close to the feed zone, and LeMond was more concerned with collecting his musette, containing food and drinking bottles. For several miles, LeMond rides along in the peloton, unaware and blissfully ignorant of the fact that Hinault has attacked.
“I was thinking nothing’s happening,” LeMond says. “My teammates aren’t telling me anything. But Hinault just . . . slipped away.”
LeMond’s first inkling of what has happened comes when the timer’s motorbike—which, on a blackboard, relays time gaps from peloton to break, identifying the riders in the break by their numbers—drops back to the bunch.
“When the motorbike appears with the blackboard showing the numbers of the breakaway . . . I had to do a double take. There was number 1. I saw that and just thought, that’s Hinault. Hinault?”
Bernard rode hard, taking long turns on the front of the break, forcing the pace, helping establish the lead.
As Hinault’s stealth break stretched its advantage to 2 minutes, very little happened behind. Laurent Fignon, it became clear whenever the road begins to rise, was finished. The double Tour winner, as his performance in the time trial in Nantes foretold, lost 11 minutes and abandoned the Tour. More surprisingly, the challenge of Stephen Roche—third the previous year—also crumbled on this first, relatively easy day in the mountains. The Irishman lost 21 minutes. For Phil Anderson, the Australian, the day was even more catastrophic; he lost 33.
La Vie Claire assistant director Maurice Le Guilloux admits he was as “surprised” by Hinault’s attack as LeMond was. “Greg came back to the team car and said, ‘Look, I don’t understand what’s going on. Why is Hinault attacking?’ He was very upset.”
Yet LeMond was unable to convince the GC teams to chase.
The LeMond group, which included Herrera, Urs Zimmermann, and Robert Millar, rode so erratically, so stop-start, that Hinault and Delgado—riding steadily—continued to pull away, their lead approaching 6 minutes, 30 seconds.
At the finish in Pau, Hinault’s breakaway companion Pedro Delgado of Spain (PDM) outsprinted Hinault for the stage win. Hinault admits that he made a deal with the Spaniard—“I asked him to help increase the gap, and I’d give him the stage”—and Hinault took over the yellow jersey from the Dane Pedersen. LeMond is best of the rest, placing third, just ahead of Herrera, but 4:30 behind Hinault, a huge margin.
Check back with us soon as our man in France Richard Moore seeks LeMond’s reaction to today’s intriguing stage.
In today’s televised coverage, watch Hinault sit up to gift the stage to Delgado. Earlier footage shows them working smoothly to build time on the peloton.
Today’s race coverage was adapted from Richard Moore’s new book Slaying the Badger, an incomparably detailed and highly revealing tale of the greatest ever Tour de France.
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