Photo: Hinault by Miroir du Cyclisme
In the unofficial professional (male) cycling Hall of Fame, the conventional wisdom puts Eddy Merckx on the top step of the all-time-great podium. (I say male, because if gender was ignored, Marianne Vos would be right up there). Fausto Coppi is on the second step and Bernard Hinault on the third. The Frenchman’s palmares are many and astounding in variety, matched by a personality that requires an equal number of adjectives: surly, angry, committed, bloody-minded, generous, selfless, arrogant, prideful, domineering, deceitful, loyal. Whatever words you choose, he was one of the hardest men the sport has produced.
Evidence? This was the rider who flew off a cliff in the 1977 Dauphine-Libere, remounted and won; the man who won the 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Liege in the worst conditions in modern times; the rider who punched protestors in the 1984 Paris-Nice; the rider who won the Tour in 1985 with two black eyes from a fall that smashed his nose; the rider who was, from the early years of his career, the undisputed “patron” of the peloton, and the ASO employee responsible for managing the Tour’s podium ceremonies who unceremoniously pushed imposters off “his” turf. Yet this was also the team leader who could be tremendously supportive of younger riders and who was a great teammate who gifted them stages or rode as a domestique for them from time to time – just so long as it wasn’t a race hewanted to win. (Just ask Jean-Rene Bernaudeau).
Hinault was one of the best paid cyclists of his day (and back in the day, that salary was a pittance compared to today’s stars), but like many top riders he had sponsorships to supplement his income. Patrick shoes and Look pedals were two companies that paid the Badger to use their gear. However, in 1988, two years after his retirement, he perhaps surprisingly put his illustrious name and tough guy reputation on the line by endorsing a nice little line of gold jewelry. It might not have been quite the chunky, masculine accoutrements that might have been expected, instead it was a tad on the dainty side if truth be told, but time has a gentle way of softening the harder edges of youthful bravado. Long before Michael Matthews earned his nickname “Bling”, the Badger was way ahead of him. So what’s the moral of this story? Every coin has two sides, but they all go in the bank.
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