Tour de France classics: Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond on Alpe d’Huez in 1986
Throwback Thursday: The La Vie Claire team-mates tussle en route to the famous mountain during the 1986 Tour de France
This year’s Tour de France marks the 103rd edition of cycling’s most famous race so it is little surprise the race is packed full of memorable moments.
Mark Cavendish’s stage three win in Angers took him level with Bernard Hinault in second place on the all-time list of Tour stage wins, so we’ve delved into the archives to pick one of the Frenchman’s more infamous victories nearly 30 years ago.
Having won his final Tour de France in 1985, thanks to the work of super-domestique Greg LeMond, Hinault returned the following year, supposedly to repay the American’s favour.
And it was the La Vie Claire duo who dominated on one of the Tour’s most famous mountains that year – though not in the way you’d expect team-mates to work.
Relive Hinault and LeMond’s one-two on Alpe d’Huez, on stage 18 of the 1986 Tour de France, below.
Setting the scene – Lemond the favourite, Hinault on the attack
Having dominated the 1985 Tour de France, won for a record-equalling fifth time by Frenchman Bernard Hinault, the La Vie Claire team were heavily favoured for the 1986 edition.
Hinault returned to ride for Greg LeMond, who had been the Frenchman’s key lieutenant the previous year as they finished first and second overall.
The Frenchman had already announced the 1986 Tour would be his last, but had publicly promised to ride for LeMond, whose main rival appeared to be Laurent Fignon.
Hinault’s sincerity was called into question, however, after he repeatedly attacked in the mountains and took over the race lead in the Pyrenees on stage 12.
LeMond took the yellow jersey on stage 17, however, on the Col d’Izoard and so was race leader ahead of the 18th stage which climbed the Col du Galibier, Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez.
The route – 162.5km, three major climbs, 21 hairpins
If Alpe d’Huez is one of the Tour de France’s most famous Alpine climbs, there is little doubting the Col du Galibier is another.
Both featured on the 162.5km route from Briancon on stage 18 of the Tour de France, with the Col du Croix de Fer in between.
The Galibier, also including the Col du Telegraphe climb is 34.8km in length, with the actual climb to the summit some 18.1km at an average gradient of 6.9 per cent – up into double figures over the top.
Alpe d’Huez’s 21 hairpins need little introduction, either, with the 13.8km climb boasting an average gradient of 8.1 per cent.
The 1986 Tour de France was the 11th to feature a stage finish on Alpe d’Huez – Hinault had worn the yellow jersey after four of those stages, but neither LeMond nor Hinault had ever won on the Alpe.
How the race unfolded
Hinault, as he had done on previous stages, attacked throughout the 18th stage – the Frenchman shedding rivals from the off.
Having started the day in third place overall, Hinault repeatedly launched solo attacks off the front but, alive to the danger, LeMond – in the yellow jersey – followed every one.
On the Col du Telegraphe, Hinault’s attack distanced second-placed Urs Zimmerman (Carrera-Inoxpran) but again, LeMond followed with the move obliterating the La Vie Claire riders’ rivals.
Just two riders stuck with Hinault and race leader LeMond – their Canadian team-mate Steve Bauer and Seat-Orbea rider Pello Ruiz Cabestany, who had won the fourth stage.
On the Croix de Fer, however, the four-man leading group was down to just two riders as Hinault and LeMond led the way onto Alpe d’Huez with a comfortable advantage over the rest of the riders.
Once there, an estimated 300,000 fans were packed onto the 21 hairpins of the climb with LeMond later admitting his concern something could happen with the partisan French crowd chanting Hinault’s name.
Le Blaireau, unfazed, led the way through the throngs of people, however, telling his team leader to stay behind and let him guide the way up the slope.
After the attacks of earlier in the race – and indeed the stage – it would be the first time the two team-mates seemingly rode together in the mountains with Hinault continuing to set a metronomic pace.
He wrote in his autobiography of his insistence LeMond stayed behind rather than burning himself out needlessly with such a big lead over the field.
And stay behind he did, with the two emerging on the plateau towards the summit together – at which the point the American pulled alongside Hinault, arm on his shoulder, to talk.
With both beaming, they crossed the finish line hand-in-hand, Hinault taking the stage honours and LeMond celebrating the fact he was now well clear overall.
Zimmerman finished third on the stage, some 5m15s later, meaning he dropped to third overall – seven minutes and 41 seconds behind LeMond.
Hinault moved up to second as a result, at 2’45”, while LeMond replaced Britain’s Robert Millar as leader of the mountains classification too.
Tour de France 1986: stage 18 – result
1) Bernard Hinault (FRA) – La Vie Claire – 5.03.03hrs
2) Greg LeMond (USA) – La Vie Claire – ST
3) Urs Zimmerman (SUI) – Carrera-Inoxpran +5.15
4) Reynel Montoya (COL) – Postobon +6.06
5) Yvon Madiot (FRA) – Systeme U +6.21
6) Andy Hampsten (USA) – La Vie Claire +6.22
7) Ronan Pensec (FRA) – Peugeot-Shell +6.26
8) Samuel Cabrera (COL) – Reynolds-TS Batteries +6.34
9) Pascal Simon (FRA) – Peugeot-Shell +6.45
10) Alvara Pino (ESP) – Zor-BH +6.48
The aftermath – “The Tour is not finished”
“The Tour is not finished,” Hinault told French TV after the stage, despite the apparent truce between the two La Vie Claire riders on Alpe d’Huez.
“There could be a crash, many things can still happen. But if we have a war, it’ll be a fair war and the stronger one will win.”
Regardless of how the race unfolded from there on, however, it was apparent only a disaster would stop La Vie Claire winning – be it through Hinault or LeMond.
And despite Hinault’s ominous statement, it would be LeMond who held onto the race lead – the Frenchman even waiting for his American team-mate when he crashed on the final stage to help escort him back to the bunch.
He did have the consolation of second place overall and the King of the Mountains jersey, however, which he had taken over the day after Alpe d’Huez.
It meant Hinault ended his Tour de France career with the record of, whenever he finished the race, being in the top two on every occasion.
LeMond became the first English-speaking winner of the Tour de France, but could not defend his Tour win the following year after a hunting accident at home in America, while recovering from an injury suffered at Tirreno-Adriatico.
He was to return to top form in 1989, however, winning the second of his three Tour de France yellow jerseys and later going on to be crowned world champion.
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