Monday, August 4, 2014

ESPN 30 For 30 Slaying the Badger: Greg Lemond vs. Bernard Hinault

If the whole professional cycling drug culture epitomized by Lance Armstrong and his competitors has lessened your interest in the Tour de France and other professional races, then you might want to reflect on a "simpler" time in bike racing when Greg Lemond was attempting to be the first American to win the the Tour. For those of us who were following professional cycling at the time through the Tour de France televised recaps and the magazine "Winning Bicycle Racing Illustrated" it was an exciting time and not at all as simple as it first appeared. I was in the midst of being a Ironman distance triathlete between the years 1983-1987 and cycling was a foreign sport that was barely reported on in the USA and so it seemed just as new as the sport of triathlon. Cycling emerged onto the radar (along with triathlons) in the psyche of runners exiting the running boom or expanding into new sports. "Cross-training" was a new word and a new idea for athletes at the time. Greg Lemond was the man in those days and the excitement of an American taking over a European sport was creating a fresh interest in the sport and peleton The awareness was probably also propelled by the 1979 movie Breaking Away and American cyclists like Jonathan "Jacques" Boyer  and John Howard who won the 1981 Hawaii Ironman.

Slaying the Badger details in particular the year 1986 when five time Tour de France champion, Bernard Himault- the Badger, went against his promise to support Greg Lemond and instead attempted to steal a second tour victory from his young American teammate. The dramatics behind the scenes and throughout the Tour are compellingly portrayed through interviews with the key players and video from the race.

Greg Lemond with my son Andy in 1999.
Watching the film reminded me of my fascination with learning about professional bike racing in those years. Yes, I had a "La Vie Claire" cycling jersey, a pair of the first clip-on Look pedals, and  pair of Oakley Pilot sunglasses. just as shown in this documentary. I also recall getting more and more people interested in cycling and the Tour so that by 1989 when Greg Lemond had his showdown with Laurent Fignon in the final time trial of that years Tour, I had convinced plenty of non-cycling friends to watch along with me on television. I was also thrilled to see Greg using "triathlon" bars in that stunning race.

"Slaying the Badger" is a great film to watch if you don't know the history. Greg's story got lost during the Lance Armstrong years, but his triumph over the Badger and later returning to win the Tour after being shot by a hunting rifle is just as inspiring as Lance's victory over cancer. This video is mostly about 1986, but it does touch briefly on what happened in 1985's Tour as well as the hunting accident and 1989. It also shows what happened to Greg and other cyclists like Andy Hampsten once EPO hit the peleton.

The video is based on the book Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France by Richard Moore. If you missed the ESPN episode shown in July, you can watch the video from Amazon: Slaying the Badger.


A couple of other interesting cycling movies I have watched in the past month are Rising from Ashesabout starting a professional cycling team in Rwanda. Jonathan Boyer, mentioned above, plays a part in the movie as the disgraced cyclist/coach who moves to Africa to help out with the athletes on the cycling team.  It is currently playing on Netflix. On one of the flights to Kenya last month, I also caught the movie Pantani: The Accidental Death Of A Cyclist about 1998 Tour de France champion Marco Pantani. They were all good movies, but "Slaying the Badger" is the best of the bunch.

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