Just finished reading—and really enjoying—"Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France” (Velopress) by British writer Richard Moore. It’s about the ’86 Tour de France when both were riders for the La Vie Claire team and the tense battle that raged between the two over how the following question would be answered: would Hinault become the first six-time winner of the Tour de France or would LeMond become the first-ever American to win? (First non-European to win too.)
LeMond almost won in ’85 but during a pivotal stage on which yellow jersey-wearer Hinault was suffering, was told not to go on the attack but rather to hang back and help ferry his teammate Hinault to the finish line. For helping him win his fifth Tour in ’85, Hinault promised LeMond he’d help him win his first the following year. But once the ’86 race started and the lure of becoming a six-time winner grew, Hinault struggled mightily to keep his promise and attacked LeMond again and again, even when Hinault already had the yellow jersey.
“Slaying the Badger” is a great read. I have to admit, as much as I love cycling I don’t always love books about cycling. Reader snob boy that I am, I often find that they’re just not that well written. (Tim Krabbe’s “The Rider” and Daniel Coyle’s “Lance Armstrong’s War” are among the exceptions.) But this one’s good, painting intriguing portraits of the almost maniacal, win-at-all costs Hinault, and the insecure newcomer, LeMond.
Also detailed are a slew of fascinating background characters including directeur sportif Paul Kochli, team owner (and wingnut) Bernard Tapie, and La Vie Claire teammate Andy Hampsten. (Btw, Hampsten, who would go on to win the ’88 Giro d’Italia, emerges as someone whose own storied career would make for a fascinating book.)
Whether the 1986 edition really was the greatest Tour de France is a matter of opinion—it would seem LeMond’s ’89 win by eight seconds over Laurent Fignon warrants consideration—but that’s not important. “Slaying the Badger” is a fun read, perfect for these weeks in the run-up to the 2012 Tour de France.