Bernard Hinault (born 14 November 1954) is a French former professional cyclist. With 147 professional victories, including five in the Tour de France, he is often named among the greatest cyclists of all time.
1975–1977: Gitane Cycling Team
In January 1975, Hinault turned professional with the Gitane–Campagnolo team, run by former World Champion Jean Stablinski, on a lean wage of 2,500 francs per month. The decision to turn professional relatively early was in part taken as, had Hinault raced the 1975 season as an amateur, he would have likely been prevented by the French cycling federation from turning professional before the 1976 Summer Olympics to be part of the French team there. Early on, he showed no interest in adhering to the unwritten rules of the peloton, whereby younger riders were expected to show respect towards older ones. At a criterium race in August 1975, he went up against a coalition of senior riders, who had decided to divide the prize money between them. Hinault won all the intermediate cash prizes until five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx declared that Hinault was included in the pact. His results in his first season were impressive, with a seventh-place at Paris–Nice and a victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe, earning him the Promotion Pernod, the prize for the best new professional in France. However, Hinault showed little willingness to learn the basic trades of cycling from Stablinski, often escaping early in the race instead of learning how to ride inside the peloton. Together with Stablinski entering Hinault into too many races, this led to conflicts between them.For 1976, Hinault stayed with Gitane, as former professional Cyrille Guimard, who had just retired from cycling, took over the team and became directeur sportif. Guimard and Hinault got along well, and the latter was kept out of the high-profile races for 1976, instead focussing on a steady improvement in lesser-known races such as Paris–Camembert, which he won. That year, Guimard spurred Lucien Van Impe to his only win in the Tour de France. Hinault’s progress was visible, with a second consecutive victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe, a third-place at the Grand Prix du Midi Libre and a win at the Tour de l’Aude, ensuring him the Prestige Pernod, the award for the best French rider of the season. In total, Hinault won 15 races in 1976. At the end of the year, he came sixth at the World Championship Road Race, being beaten to the line for fifth by Eddy Merckx.
During the spring classics season of 1977, Hinault left the Tour of Flanders before it had even started, not wanting to risk his health in a rain- and cold-affected race on cobbled roads. This drew him a formal warning by Guimard for his conduct. Three weeks later, Hinault won Gent–Wevelgem in a solo effort after an attack 30 km (19 mi) from the finish. Five days later, at Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Hinault followed an attack by favorite André Dierickx, and beat him in the two-man sprint to take his first victory in one of cycling’s “monuments”. In accordance with Guimard’s plan to build Hinault up slowly, he did not enter the Tour de France. He did, however, start the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, seen as the most important preparation event for the Tour. While in the leader’s jersey on the penultimate stage to Grenoble, Hinault attacked up the Col de Porte, leading Van Impe and Bernard Thévenet by 1:30 minutes when crossing the summit. On the descent, he misjudged a hairpin corner and crashed down the mountainside. A tree saved him from falling far down, while his bike was lost. Hinault then climbed back onto the road, took a new bike and without showing any hesitation, continued on. Up the finishing climb in Grenoble, he briefly dismounted, still shocked from the near-death experience and pushed his bike for about 20 m (22 yds), before remounting and winning the stage eighty seconds ahead of Van Impe. This also secured him the overall victory ahead of eventual Tour winner Thévenet.
This incident was mentioned from a semi-pro rider’s perspective in the Tim Krabbé book De Runner (The Rider) when the main character is about to descend a Col in the Tour de Mont Aigoual: “Curves. I’m afraid, and for good reason. Only three weeks ago, during the Dauphiné Libéré, the young up-and-coming Hinault flew out of a curve, into a ravine. Gone. At that moment the French TV audience had every reason to assume that he was lying down there with a broken back. Then he climbed up, was given another bike, rode on, won the stage and went on to win the Dauphiné Libéré. A star forever. Hinault had gone into that ravine a rider but came out a vedette, and the entire operation lasted no longer than fifteen seconds.”
At the end of the season, Hinault won the Grand Prix des Nations, an individual time trial, with a substantial margin of 3:15 minutes ahead of favorite Joop Zoetemelk.