Monday, May 13, 2013

Slaying The Badger- Book review

Slaying The Badger:

A Must Read For Cyclists Looking for Inspiration

Bernard Hinault, also known as the badger, tearing down the competition. Cycling Art Blog

The year was 1986. As I was taking my first steps, Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault were crossing the finish line of the Champs Elysees, cementing the first Tour De France win for the young Lemond and retiring the older Hinault, a five time Tour De France winner. What went down at this tour was epic. This was a tour full of mountain attacks and solo breakaways that have been unmatched since in the professional cycling scene. It was the last time that a tour would claim to have  a true leader, one that couldn't be challenged and one that would never lose, unless it was on his own terms. Thus Slaying The Badger is a window into 1986 and the stories of each of these two men leading up to that fateful 1986 tour. 

So, the first question my readers might have is, why do I care? I mean, I was barely born when this happened so how is this relevant to me? It's simple. Growing up, society treated the 80's like they never happened. No textbooks contained any historical events nor did the media and entertainment industry make any cultural references about that time. I guess my parent's generation were past their formative years when this decade came along, disregarding it as having been too recent to consider it history. It wasn't until later in life, and with the globalization of the internet, that I independently researched a lot of what went down during the decade that my parents rarely if ever talked to me about. I'm glad I have been able to add to my cultural knowledge of this time period when I was introduced to the world. 

Another reason why it matters to me is because I now own at least two bicycles that are as old as I am, and I ride them hard. Before being slammed by headwind on the way back, I rode my custom made 1986 Woodrup averaging 19mph for the first fifteen or so miles of my ride. So not only did the 80's do something right by bringing me into the world, the bikes made during this time are very fast, even by today's standards. 

So let's talk about the book, shall we? The book introduces both characters in their modern day setting, Hinault on his farm in Brittany, Lemond in his spacious house in Minnesota.While the author describes Hinault in a pastural setting, his home at the end of a seemingly endless and unpaved driveway, reminiscent of the way homes are in my native Puerto Rico, Lemond's home is slightly less modest, with an elaborate garden in the front entrance and a seemingly larger house than Hinault's. Why these details matter is a mystery to me, but it does give insight to the type of personalities each cyclist has.

Bernard Hinault, if I could pick only two words to describe him after reading this book, they would be "The Boss". Everyone knew better than to cross Bernard Hinault, if anyone dared cross him they would feel the wrath of his beating, whether on the bike or even physically. During the 1984 Paris-Niece race, Bernard  got off his bike and dispersed a crowd of about 25 labor union workers protesting in the middle of the road, scattering them off with his fists. Although he suffered a broken rib from that incident, it just shows you how boss Bernard Hinault was. His physical feats and ability to withstand pain are even more astounding. Just like Gino Bartali before him, he endured a freak snow storm in the 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Leige, winning over the rest of the field by over ten minutes, suffering permanent frostbite at the ends of the finger tips. Bernard Hinault cranked a huge gear, a common practice of a lot of the greats from that era. This may be the reason why he was constantly getting knee injuries during his time as a professional cyclist. Even with that setback, he won many races were he wasn't at his best due to knee injury, a broken nose, or even falling of a precipice. Bernard Hinault, in short, was hardcore. He inspired a fear and a respect in the peloton that has yet to be matched by any modern day cyclist. His competitors even had posters of him in  their rooms, that's how much he was revered. Even with that level of admiration, Bernard Hinault knew his limits. He was never a braggart about his victories, and was very selective about what he set out to win and what he would allow other team members to win. As a team leader, sometimes he would play domestique to allow his teammates to win stage victories or even one day races. He was a leader that knew how to lead.

Greg Lemond, was cool. I'm not going to go into any depth describing Lemond's greatness, that's what the rest of the book is for, so definitely pick up a copy and read it. Maybe that's being biased, but that's also why you're reading this review from my blog. Greg Lemond was a very gifted cyclist. He could drop his teammates almost at will, choosing on many occasions not to do the same to Hinault as a show of respect. In contrast to Hinault's self confidence and self reliance, Greg Lemond appears insecure and at times even paranoid in his account of what happened at the 1986 Tour, claiming everything from foul play to keeping his bicycle in his room over fear of sabotage. His insecurities showed even further years afterword in his criticism of Lance Armstrong, although as we later find out, Lemond was right about Armstrong not racing clean. The way Lemond went about this, though, undermined his own achievements and left a very negative first impression about him in my mind. As an athlete Lemond had the goods and delivered them, every time. And he is the only American that won the Tour De France fair and square, and reading this account there was no way I think he could have cheated.

This book also brings to light other great cyclists of the mid eighties that I knew nothing about, such as Laurent Fignon, Urs Zimmerman, Lucho Herrera, Andy Hampsten, and Sean Kelly just to name a few. I didn't even know Colombians reigned supreme on the mountain stages before the 90's came along and they became outperformed by others doping their way up the mountain passes. Reading this book, I spent hours of additional research on each of the riders and details of that era that the book described. 

Slaying The Badger is a good read, and I recommend any cycling fan to pick it up and read it. It's better than It's Not About The Bike, because it's actually non-fiction and gives the reader something to really cheer about. This has been my ten cents about this autobiography. Stay tuned for more book reviews from a Bicycle's Point of View.

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