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Q&A: Bernard Hinault

The five-time winner of the Tour de France talks to Cyclist about the ASO, not obeying orders and why money is the root of all dull racing

Peter Stuart
14 Nov 2017

Age: 62
Nationality: French
Honours Tour de France winner 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985;
28 stage wins
Giro d’Italia winner 1980, 1982, 1985
6 stage wins
Vuelta a España winner 1978, 1983
7 stage wins
World Road Race Champion 1980
Paris-Roubaix winner 1981

Cyclist: You’ve ended your work as ambassador for ASO, organiser of the Tour de France. Why did you make the move and what are you doing now?

Bernard Hinault: I am retired. With competition and all of my activities I have been working with ASO in one way or another for 42 years. That’s finished now. I have two grandchildren who I’d like to see grow up. The whole thing has made me think about how my grandfather spent time with me, and all the things I never got to do or see with my children, which I now want to do with my grandchildren. I’ve missed lots.

Cyc: ASO has been at odds with cycling’s governing body, the UCI, over how racing should be structured. What do you think will happen?

BH: Coming out of the WorldTour is the only solution for ASO, and changing the categories of racing. It’s not a matter of separation, it’s just that the UCI doesn’t think enough nowadays.

Cyc: Where do you think the UCI has gone wrong?

BH: There’s one solution – what must happen is that a team doesn’t get money for turning up to race, but for results. Take the system for football. You have the Premier League, first division and so on, and if you’re in the bottom three of any division, you’re out. It’s as simple as that. If we had the same structure for cycling, the directeur sportif would say, “You have to go out and race, because if you don’t we’ll all be thrown out by the end of the year!”

Cyc: How do you see that being put into effect?

BH: That’s where ASO has to use its authority and say this is how we’re doing things. By leaving the current system, the race organisers can impose the number of cyclists in a race, then they’re not obliged to take all the pro teams and those who don’t want to be part of the race can stay at home. It means that all the riders in a race will fight every day, and that will change
a lot of things. If you come to the Tour de France and treat it like a holiday, the next year you won’t be invited to race.

Cyc: Which current races do you think are the most exciting to watch?

BH: I generally watch three races. The Tour of Gabon is great and shows the evolution of African cycling – they don’t worry about the money involved, they just race. I find it fascinating, because there’s so much progress in African cycling. I also watch the Tour de Bretagne because although it’s third category they go out and race hard every day. And the last tour I watched was called the Tour of the Future [Tour de l’Avenir], which is entirely made up of young and talented kids.

Cyc: How do you feel about the on-bike cameras that we’ve seen recently?

BH: Whenever we have these images within the race, it’s fantastic for the public. When there’s a sprint or a mountain climb you can see much more than from the TV cameras or the helicopter. I don’t know whether the riders sometimes think, “What can we do to make the people want to watch cycling on TV even more?” It isn’t enough for them to just ride tempo for most of the stage and then race for an hour every day.

Cyc: Do you think the peloton could benefit from a patron, like you were, to keep the riders in order and reduce the number of crashes?

BH: In terms of crashes, we need to change the bikes to adapt to our climate conditions. At the moment, many riders are too nervous, so as soon as someone brakes, they slip. Carbon rims are very good when dry, but terrible in the wet. It seems the riders are against disc brakes, but that’s nonsense. If I was a pro racer now, I would have disc brakes, certainly. It’s the most secure braking system, whether it rains or not. There are no more accidents as a result of them. Disc brakes have existed in mountain biking for over 20 years. Do any more riders get injured because of them? No.

Cyc: What about the gashes we’ve seen in some riders’ legs which have been attributed to disc brakes?

BH: It’s a chainring, certainly, because it’s impossible for the injuries to be from a disc rotor given where they are. In Dubai, when a rider [Owain Doull] said [Marcel] Kittel’s disc rotor opened up his shoe, you could see the shoe had rust marks on it, so it was clearly cut on the edge of a barrier. Riders need to stop talking rubbish, and they need to start thinking. When you don’t want a certain product, you try to think of all the excuses you can to avoid having to use it. You need to work at it, to improve the product.

Cyc: What else would your advice be for riders today?

BH: In the first place, riders need to be more independent, so you don’t have the directeur sportif behind you telling you what to do all the time. In the case of Romain Bardet at the Tour in 2016, his directeur sportif said he disobeyed his orders [when he attacked on Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc], but he wouldn’t have finished second if he hadn’t. And if Froome hadn’t got up from his crash, Bardet would have won the Tour. Today, being a directeur sportif is all about money. It’s always the same.

Cyc: Who is your favourite racer from your youth?

BH: There were two. The first is Anquetil, because he won. The second is Merckx, because he won. You look at those two at that age, and take a little of both to create yourself as a rider – Merckx because he won everything, and Anquetil because he was just cool.

Cyc: Were you ever tempted to try to win a sixth Tour de France?

BH: Why, what’s the point? Would I have been happier if I’d won six instead of five? I was able to play and have fun in my last two Tours [1985 and 1986]. It’s all about the game, about the pleasure. It’s true that if I had wanted to I could have won more. But it’s not just about saying I’m the best because I’ve won the most.

Bernard Hinault was interviewed at the La Ronde Tahitienne sprotive in Tahiti [see details here]. Interview conducted in French and translated by Thérèse Coen.

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