Sunday, September 2, 2012

Slaying the Badger (Book Review)

Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de FranceSlaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France by Richard Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title doesn't mean much to people who aren't (relative to regular people) deep into road racing history and would know that "the badger" is Bernard Hinault, who won the Tour de France five times. The sub-title however makes the subject somewhat more clear: "Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the greatest Tour de France" - this book ponders what Hinault meant when he seemed to promise that after winning his fifth Tour in 1985, he would work in 1986 to help LeMond win his first. (A problem with Mr. Hinault is that his statements can often be understood in more than one way.) To do this, the author (who observed the 1985 and 1986 Tours firsthand) interviewed Hinault, LeMond, and others who might provide some insights. He then inserts material from these recent interviews into what is first a review of Hinault and LeMond's history in cycling followed by a day-by-day account of the 1986 Tour.

The overall result is a decent history of the Tour in 1985 and 1986 with some background that reads well, other than these occasional detours into further musing on what Hinault really was thinking. Motivation ("what was he thinking?") is interesting, but since Hinault is clearly not going to offer more insights than he has to date, the constant returning to this topic in this book eventually became a little tiresome - but that could be me.

The author notes in an afterword for the US edition that in the original UK edition, the sub-title was "the greatest ever Tour de France" - he took "ever" out of the sub-title to suggest that he is open to other suggestions on which was "the greatest ever." I'm not sure he has solved the problem - what I think he means is that this was the greatest duel between two riders in a Tour de France - but that would have made for a rather long sub-title.

An interesting point made several times in interviews in the book is that regardless of what he had in mind, Hinault effectively created a situation with his tactics that meant he was in a race with the rest of the field plus LeMond while LeMond was in a race with Hinault alone, and that this simplified things greatly for LeMond even as Hinault may have mercilessly messed with LeMond's mind.

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