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Bernard Hinault And the Fall and Rise of French Cycling By William Fotheringham

Release date: 16th May, 2015
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: 16.99
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Introspection has long been the English football fan’s default mode. Whenever a major international tournament appears on the horizon, a brooding, collective navel-gazing period is invariably followed by the same nagging question: how did Johnny Foreigner become so good at a game we gave the world? Next year, it’ll be half a century since England won anything of consequence.

This month, the French begin a similar annual soul-searching period as the pre-race preliminaries have the nation’s sports fans asking: how is the sport we gave the world now dominated by foreigners?

The French have endured their own thirty years of hurt: not since 1985 has a Frenchman won the Tour de France and there’s little likelihood of that run ending this summer either.

As ever, William Fotheringham, author of two excellent cycling biographies, of Eddie Merckx and Tom Simpson, gives it both barrels in another superb account, this time of Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to win the Tour. In fact, Hinault won the race an incredible five times and is the only rider in history to win each of the Grand Tours more than once.

Hinault’s reputation as an aggressive, attack-minded champion – he once got involved in a fight with a spectators during the Paris-Nice race and was universally known as ‘the Badger’ as a result of his propensity to go on the offensive – is polished by Fotheringham, who points out that in a quarter century of following the Tour, Hinault was the only man who referred to professional racing as fun. “The phrase se faire plaisir – to have fun, take pleasure, enjoy yourself, crops up all the time when you talk cycling with him,” he notes.

Fotheringham succeeds in producing the definitive biography of one of the greatest cyclists of all time, a man who dominated the sport between 1978-85 and who has not lost his competitive instinct. On a to visit Yorkshire to promote last year’s Grand Depart, Hinault rode up one long climb at the head of a group of locals, though on the descent, with British professional Russell Downing, the Brit was shocked when the Badger attacked him, ‘at full pelt’. Such episodes explain why Hinault was a born winner, as Fotheringham explains with his usual panache.


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