Bernard Hinault is a former French cyclist counted among the best cyclists of all times. A five-time winner of the prestigious Tour de France, he is also one of the only six cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours: Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. A dedicated professional to the core, he dominated the sport of cycling for a major portion of the 1970s and 1980s, and remains the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France. A charismatic personality, he was famous for his leadership skills and utter dedication to his profession. When Hinault made his professional debut in 1974, the Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx—considered to be the greatest pro-cyclist of his time—was at the peak of his career. The year proved to be a very exciting one for cycling enthusiasts as the current superstar of the game was soon overshadowed by an emerging young one. Once Hinault made his entry into professional cycling, many of the sport’s existing records were rewritten. He started displaying great character and determination while still young and went on to surpass many of Merckx’s records. Hinault eventually secured more than 200 victories in 12 years, cementing his place among the greatest pro-cyclists of all times.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 14 November 1954 in Brittany, France at the house of his grandparents. His father Joseph was a small farmer who grew onions and beans, and his mother’s name was Lucie. He has three siblings: Gilbert, Josiane, and Pierre.
His town was already a cycling heartland at the time of his birth though Bernard’s initial plans were not to be a cyclist. As a youngster he harbored the dream of becoming a farmer.
As a child he was very mischievous, stubborn and bold, and was in the habit of picking up fights with his siblings and the other children. He hated school and had no interest in studying.
When he finally passed his school certificate examination, his parents gifted him with a bike. He started riding the bike along with one of his cousins, a cycling enthusiast, and soon realized that this was what he wanted to pursue as a career.
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He started professional cycling in 1974 at the age of 19. He joined the Gitane team and his income was fixed at 2,500 francs a month—the minimum legal wage. He finished seventh overall in the first major stage race of the season.
He scored an early victory in Paris-Camembert in 1976 by demonstrating his time trial strength as he maintained a thin lead to the finish. By this time he had become friends with Cyrille Guimard, a former professional cyclist, who advised the youngster on professional issues.
Bernard looked to participate in the 1978 Tour de France as he had been advised not to enter in 1977 in order to practice on his technique. Before the tour he demonstrated his talent by beating many of the favorites in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré rode his first grand tour, the Vuelta a España. He eventually won the 1978 Tour de France on his debut.
He was hailed for winning the prestigious title on his maiden attempt and he lived up to his reputation by winning the Tour again in 1979. He again rode in the 1980 Tour de France, but had to abandon the race due to knee problems.
However, he was determined to re-capture the title. In 1981 he won the Paris–Roubaix and went on to clinch the first place in the Tour as well—a success he repeated at the 1982 Tour de France. However, his knee problems continued and he had to miss the Tour in 1983.
His career soared during the 1980s and he became associated with the Swiss coach Paul Koechli and the La Vie Claire team. He participated in the Tour in 1984 but lost to fellow French rider Laurent Fignon who beat Hinault by over 10 minutes. Undaunted, he learnt meditation and relaxation techniques from Koechli and returned to the Tour in 1985, this time winning it again.
He rode in the 1986 Tour de France in which he made a suicidal solo attack to demoralize the opposition. Ultimately the race was won by LeMond, the first American to win the Tour, with a winning margin of three minutes and ten seconds over Hinault. He retired shortly after the Tour.
In addition to the five Tour de France titles, he had also won the Giro d'Italia in 1980, 1982.
Hinault’s retirement at the relatively young age of 32 might have come as a surprise to many of his fans. In fact, he quit while at the peak of his career—but not before rewriting cycling history and cementing his name among the greatest pro-cyclists to have ever existed.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Martine at a cousin’s wedding and fell in love with her within a day. The couple got married in December 1974 when Bernard was just 20.
This famous French cyclist was nicknamed ‘Le Blaireau’, meaning ‘The Badger’.