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Title: Hinault / Bernard Hinault

Author: Ruben Van Gucht / William Fotheringham

Publisher: Bloomsbury / Yellow Jersey Press

Date: April 2015 / May 2015

Format: Hardback / Hardback

Pages: 207 / 370

ISBN: 9781472912961 / 9780224092043

Price: £35 / 16.99


I thought it unusual for two books about Bernard Hinault to be published at the same time, especially when this effectively doubles the total number of dedicated biographies published.  I assumed that the timing must be linked to a specific event or anniversary, but I am yet to find any such connection: there is certainly no significant birthday involved, based on his date of birth of November 14th 1954.  


The fact that there are so few existing books specifically about Hinault surprised me, as he is up there as one of the greatest racing cyclists of all time.  Between them these two books help to redress the balance: on the one hand we have a classic ‘coffee table’ book, and on the other “the definitive biography of France’s greatest cyclist”.  


‘Hinault’ was the first book to arrive on the scene, and is the biggest, heaviest, and most expensive of the two: the coffee table book.  It does not try to cover every step of Hinault’s career, but instead “recounts the twenty biggest moments in his career”. 

For some years there are no such moments, and for others up to four.


Naturally these moments are illustrated with copious colour or black and white photographs, of which some are ‘classics’, and others I had not seen before.  The images also show how racing and its equipment changed during his career: although helmets have no place in the peloton during his time, sunglasses are just gaining ground by the end of the book.  Hinault is also well known for being an early adopter of clipless pedals, helping to establish Look as an early leader in the new technology. 

‘Bernard Hinault’ is the second book to appear, and comes from award-winning author Will Fotheringham.  Few writers have the same credentials as Fotheringham for producing such a book, as he has already written similarly thorough biographies of other cycling legends: Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, and our own Tom Simpson.  Not only do we read about Hinault’s cycling career in greater detail, we also learn about his childhood and his life after retirement. 


The different styles of these books can be illustrated with a couple of examples.  Hinault hit the headlines when crashing on a descent of the Dauphiné Libéré stage race in 1977: he was already wearing the yellow jersey as the race leader, and was also leading this stage, when he crashed and fell down a ravine.  The first book takes a page to expertly convey the drama of the moment, and backs this up with four pages of powerful photographs.  The second book spends two pages giving a more factual explanation of the event, and also uses two of the same photographs as the first book; in addition it goes further and puts this event into context as the moment when Hinault established himself at the top of the sport.

Amazingly, Hinault went on to win both that stage and the race overall. 


Hinault’s legendary fighting spirit was in evidence again during the Paris-Nice race in 1984.  The first book makes passing comment on “the fisticuffs ... when he came face to face with a striker ... who tried to bar his route”: this is not deemed to be a career highlight, and there is no supporting picture.


The second book takes two pages to not only describe the event, but also explaining the background and how it re-established Hinault as ‘le patron’ of the peloton, the boss – all supported by a handful of small pictures of Hinault leading the brawl. 

Hinault remained a controversial figure right up until he retired in 1986: naturally both books cover the story of Hinault paying Greg LeMond back for his support during the 1985 Tour by ‘allowing’ him to win in 1986.  That whole episode is actually worthy of a book in itself ... and fortunately Richard Moore has written such a book if you want the full story, ‘Slaying the Badger’, which is a reference to one of Hinault’s nicknames.


Whilst there might be no specific reason for any book about Hinault to appear now, the timing is fortuitous.  As Fotheringham’s book explains in the subtitle, his book tries to chart ‘the fall and rise of French cycling’ and the part that Hinault played in it.  French cycling has suffered what we would (until recently) class as ‘the Wimbledon effect’: despite having the greatest international competitive event of the sport on your own soil, there is no home athlete capable of winning it. 


Could it be possible that French cycling is on the way to producing another champion of the calibre of Hinault? 

This is a story of one great rider, covered in different ways by two great books.  Take your pick from the coffee table treatment or the thorough biography - or choose both if you want the complete experience.


Image from ‘Hinault’ courtesy of Bloomsbury.




Ryton On Dunsmore

Coventry  CV8 3FH


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