It’s July, the Tour de France is well underway and there are a flurry of new cycling books on the market for you to enjoy over the Summer holidays. Brendan Gallagher has been casting his eye over them and in the first of three reviews to coincide with the race, here is Bernard Hinault and the Rise and Fall of French Cycling.

Bernard Hinault and the Rise and Fall of French Cycling – by William Fotheringham
Out Now, published by Yellow Jersey, £16.99
Review by Brendan Gallagher
Available from all good book stores and online here from Amazon

CYCLING fans can never get enough of the Badger and such is his back story and enduring appeal that there always seems something new to say or a different angle to explore. 
 
Most recently we have enjoyed Richard Moore's excellent Slaying the Badger which largely explores his difficult relationship with Greg LeMond which nonetheless yielded successive first and second places for the La Vie Claire team in 1985 and 1986. A little bit of discord and intrigue within a team often works wonders!
 
Earlier this year I very much enjoyed the sumptuous photographic feast  HINAULT which was compiled by Ruben Van Gucht (find Brendan's review here) and now we have Bernard Hinault and the Rise and fall of French cycling by the Guardian's long-time cycling correspondent William Fotheringham.  
 
""The ‘handle’ – if ever an excuse to write on Hinault is required –  is the 30th anniversary of his last Tour de France win which is of course, famously, the last occasion a Frenchman won the race that they as a nation have gifted to the sporting world. The final chapter of the book deals with that decline in French fortunes and of course rather accentuates the majesty of the Badger’s career.
 
Fotheringham is a very fine biographer who has already written with insight on Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx and penned what is widely acknowledged as the definitive book on Tommy Simpson. He fuses his love and knowledge of cycling with real empathy and curiosity into his chosen subject’s background and it was inevitable that he would eventually turn his attention to Hinault. 
 
That ability to get inside the skin of his subject and explore those early influences serve Fotheringham particularly well here because Hinault is Brittany writ large and you will never 'get' the Badger without gleaning some understanding that very rugged and unique part of France. 
 
As a young hopeful amateur attempting to live the dream, Fotheringham lived and raced in Brittany for a couple of years, riding in the same events and training on the same roads as Hinault had done a little over a decade before. 
 
He homes in laser like on the influence of two fellow Bretons that loomed large in Hinault’s career – Robert le Roux, his trainer at the Club Olympique Briochine, and Cyrille Guimard who served as his DS for the larger part of his professional career.  Le Roux was a retired schoolmaster and former gymnastics champion who devoted his time and most of his money to encouraging local Breton sportsmen and immediately he saw something special in Hinault. 
 
Slightly quackish and professorial he wrote down all his cycling training methods and hints in a now highly collectable book – Coureur Cycliste, Ce Que Tu Dois Savoir – although he also insisted that his protégés participate in as many sports as possible to enhance their understanding of sport and competitive scenarios. Certainly all his young road cycling tyros were required to ride cyclo-cross and track as well. As Hinault observes: "It’s not always about your physical qualities, it can be about your dexterity, your vision of a sport.“ 
 
The key message of M Le Roux, as Hinault always respectfully called him, remains one of the great sporting mantras: "If you want to win bike races you will make money. If you want to make money you won’t win bike races.” 
 
Guimard was another huge influence. A bloody minded Breton with a big enough personality to stand-up to the younger Badger who although brilliant still needed to learn the ropes a little. Guimard had only recently retired, prematurely through injury, as a racer and was more of a road captain and big brother figure at Renault in the early years. He was a deep thinker though, demanded high standards, provided the best back up and insisted that all his riders who were up to scratch be put on year long contracts rather than the season long nine month contracts that had been the norm in French racing. 
 
He also insisted, and Hinault always thanked him for this this, that the new wunderkid of French cycling did not race in the 1976 or 1977 Tours. When he finally made his debut in 1978 it was as the finished article and real deal with a victory in the Vuelta a Espana earlier in the year under his belt by way of warm-up. It was to be six years before he lost a Grand Tour that he finished, and even when he abandoned the 1980 Tour de France he was in yellow. 
 
"It was obvious that Hinault was a great of the future," recalls Guimard. "I knew it, I was certain of it. He was a thoroughbred such as I had never seen before. It would just take a little time to tune him.”
 
Between M Le Roux and Guimard, Hinault had all bases covered: "When Cyrille started out he was 28, M Le Roux was seventy-ish, and there was good in them both,“ recalls Hinault. "The difference between the two was that with M Le Roux it was about doing the sport in general, with Cyrille it was about competing.” 
 
Big players behind the scenes whose contribution is often overlooked but what Fotheringham also brings out beautifully in this book, both in words and his choice of pictures, is Hinault's extraordinary chameleon nature. He was his own invention and could be anything he wanted depending on the situation.  He was as changeable as the Breton weather. 
 
As a rider he could climb with the best, win sprints on the Champs Elysees, time-trial everybody into oblivion and lead a breakaway with panache.  He could win Grand Tours, Classics and World Championships but unlike Merckx there were occasions when he was happy to just dawdle in the bunch. Sometimes he just liked riding his bike. 
 
There was no role he could not play, expertly, when the part demanded it. He could be hero, villain, and matinee idol. He could be fresh faced and handsome – every mother's favourite son – or he could take on the persona of a mafia hitman or a French Resistance fighter emerging from six months living rough in the mountains. He enjoyed being the centre of attention but would then retire to his set in Brittany and not be spotted for months on end. 
 
A fierce individualist reliant on no man, he could also be a team player par excellence. It was Hinault who stepped forward, when requested by the peloton, and struck a Napoleonic pose of defiance on behalf of the peloton at the infamous strike at Valence d'Agen in 1978. He quickly became the patron who even the Tour organisers had to deal with if they started taking liberties with peloton. He was the man who hated Paris-Roubaix who nonetheless decided he would win it. And did. 
  
As a celebrity when he posed for those famous pictures with Greg LeMond at a dude ranch in California it was Hinault, the maritime Breton, who looked like Jessie James or Billy the Kid, not the All-American Lemond; when he appeared in a smart business suit alongside Bernard Tapie it was Hinault who took on the ambience of a billionaire businessman; when he posed for a pint of Yorkshire's finest at Cragg Vale publicising the 2014 Depart Hinault actually looks like a thirsty cyclist about to neck a beer. 
 
By all account he didn't particularly like the media, especially photographers, but the camera loved him and wordsmiths are still enthralled. Highly recommended.

For further cycling book reviews from the past two years and details of the annual SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award, won in 2014 by Nicole Cooke's The Breakaway, click here.

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