Slaying The Badger author Richard Moore talks about Paul Köchli, Cyrille Guimard and Andy Hampsten. Oh yeah, and Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond too. And he offers Podium Café readers an exclusive chance to win a free copy of Slaying The Badger. Read on ...
Podium Café: The heart of the story in Slaying the Badger is a Civil War within one team. Cycling's thrown up quite a few of them over the years. National teams - at the Tour, at the Worlds - more times than can be counted. Within trade teams, you have Jacques Anquetil and Rudi Altig at the 1962 Vuelta a España. You have Nino Defilippis and Franco Balmamion at that year's Giro d'Italia. You have Roberto Visentini and Stephen Roche at the 1987 Giro. And you have Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador in the 2009 Tour de France. The really weird thing about the Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond feud at the 1986 Tour seems to be - to me anyway - that the guy who lost seemed to enjoy himself more than the guy who won.
Richard Moore: That could be true, but it's also true, I think, that Hinault is, strangely, in some ways a more settled character. It owes to his confidence and conviction. Life is very simple for Hinault; everything is black or white. He seems very good at compartmentalising: he could deploy his ‘destructive rage' (as Bernard Vallet described it) in the context of a race, then become a perfectly civil, relaxed, even mild-mannered person off the bike. Guimard said he was "the nicest man" away from bike races.
LeMond also said, "Hinault will probably live until he's 120." His point was that Hinault isn't prone to self-doubt or excessive self-examination.
LeMond, in contrast, is a thinker and a worrier. There's no doubt in my mind that Hinault recognised that, and that this formed part of his ‘strategy' at the '86 Tour. He could play the kind of mind games that our most famous football manager, Alex Ferguson, is renowned for. There was a famous league championship in 1996 when Ferguson's team, Manchester United, were vying with the Kevin Keegan-managed Newcastle United for the Premiership title. The turning point was when Keegan was driven almost to tears in a post-match interview: Ferguson had broken him with his casual, but pointed, remarks and mind games - and Man Utd won the title.
I think Hinault tried to do the same to LeMond. Did Hinault really enjoy himself as much as he let on? Or did he think (know) that the more relaxed (and therefore in control) he appeared, the more tense and anxious LeMond became? I do think - as his actions suggested - that he'd have rather won a sixth Tour than had ‘fun.'
PdC: I don't like doing the rose-tinted it-were-all-a-lot-better-when-me-dad-were-a-lad thing, but you and I must have come to cycling around the same time, the early eighties: ours really was the best - and the worst - decade, in terms of the changes it wrought on the sport, no? It really was the decade that separated cycling then from cycling now. The sport internationalised, technological changes reshaped bikes, riders finally began to get paid a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, new audiences came to the sport. It was one helluva ride.
RM: Yes, I agree. I can't imagine that someone who got into cycling in the Miguel Induráin era, or the Lance Armstrong era, can look back with the same sheer enjoyment - but perhaps that is the rose-tinted spectacles speaking (so to speak). It was a time of enormous change - lycra instead of wool, concealed brake cables, clipless pedals, disc wheels, low profile bikes, English-speakers. But crucially it was also a period just before other, less welcome changes - namely, EPO and race radios. And - linked to both, perhaps - what followed was more controlled, less unpredictable, racing.
PdC: You've an amazing cast of characters in Slaying the Badger, particularly off the bike. Most notably Bernard Tapie, Cyrille Guimard and Paul Köchli. Let's talk a little about a couple of them, starting with Guimard. How do you think he compares with, say, Johan Bruyneel, who has declared himself the greatest directeur sportif in the whole history of the ever ever?
RM: Guimard's record is remarkable: seven Tours de France in his first nine years as a directeur sportif. What's puzzling is that it stopped there - he never won another Tour after Laurent Fignon's win in 1984, though he did go close (with Fignon again) in '89. When you hear what Guimard has to say about racing, and you appreciate his absolute certainty and conviction (bordering on, or crossing over into, arrogance), it's no surprise that he was such an effective team director. He was also very good at talent-spotting, and at nurturing talent - he guided Hinault, LeMond and Fignon expertly through their early years. And, as the story goes, he told Lucien van Impe when to attack to win the 1976 Tour.
As for comparison with Bruyneel - I think there are certain similarities. Both seem pretty sure of their 'gifts' and both have as many detractors as fans. But whatever you think of Guimard, he has a certain - perhaps unconventional - charisma. I'm not sure how many people would describe Bruyneel as charismatic. Plus, Guimard over the years has come out with some great lines. I can reel off dozens of Guimard-isms off the top of my head (and I like to think there are a fair few in the book), whereas I struggle to recall a single original or memorable quote from Bruyneel. Also, Guimard's teams (and his riders) tended to race with panache, whereas...
PdC: Guimard worked hard as a directeur sportif, tried to be the best he could be. You explain how he learned English after signing LeMond, how we went off and did cycling's equivalent of a football manager earning his coaching badges, studying under Paul Köchli. Generally he's credited with being ahead of the curve on a lot of the technological innovations that came along, using the Renault wind tunnel and the like. He comes across as being open to change. At the same time though he strikes me as being pretty hidebound in his man-management tactics. He used the carrot when he could, but was quick to reach for the stick.
RM: I think his treatment of LeMond shows how open and adaptable he could be, though. LeMond spoke very warmly of Guimard - he was very impressed by him, and that owed to his man-management skills (in the most important sense of managing different people...differently). LeMond can't have been the easiest guy to manage, but, from trying to learn English, to trying (with limited success, admittedly) to get the LeMonds a home when they first came to France, even reassuring LeMond on the morning of the 1983 world title race (LeMond had been awake all night; Guimard told him that all great deeds are done on no sleep!), Guimard handled LeMond brilliantly. He was grooming him for greatness, so it was a pity for Guimard that LeMond left his team when he was on the brink of greatness. (Though Guimard maintains that LeMond would have won more than three Tours under him.)
He might not have been so ‘adaptable' in his man-management of lesser riders, of course. His empathy may only have extended to the stars, or potential stars.
And as you say, in so many other aspects - equipment, technology - he was ahead of the curve. It makes what happened in 1989 all the more odd - when LeMond beat his rider, Fignon, using the tri-bars that Guimard had apparently decided not to bother with (at least as I understand the story).
PdC: Guimard and Hinault made a hell of a team, and they were ready to challenge the old order. Hinault was the patron of the peloton, Guimard headed the riders' union. Together they're credited with breaking the control of the old super agents in the seventies. There's irony then in Hinault and Guimard falling out over Hinault using an agent to negotiate his contract with Renault, rather than letting Guimard do it for him, no?
RM: Absolutely. The split between Guimard and Hinault is fascinating, and it's almost as though Hinault spent the rest of his career trying to thumb his nose at Guimard. He was very bitter over his treatment at Renault, where he was ousted shortly after his young team-mate, Laurent Fignon, won his first Tour in 1983. Even as he announced the birth of his new team, La Vie Claire, Hinault couldn't resist taking pot-shots at Guimard. He was like a spurned lover - not a position you imagine Hinault being in. It's not dissimilar to Lance Armstrong's feelings towards Cofidis, who of course sacked him when he had cancer. He returned with a point to prove. Hinault had a bad knee injury, which he'd picked up while winning that year's Vuelta - incredible to think now, but it seemed at the time that it might seriously hinder, if not end, his career (he had a history of knee problems).
Hinault's situation was a bit different to Armstrong's, in that he had gone to the Renault management and offered them an ultimatum - him or Guimard. Relations had been strained between the two of them for a while ("three years of war," is how Hinault described his relationship with Guimard), but Renault sided with Guimard. Fignon eventually fell out with Guimard too - and again it seemed to owe to a bit of a power struggle. Perhaps Guimard liked his riders to be successful, but not too powerful.
PdC: You describe Paul Köchli, the directeur sportif at La Vie Claire, as being a bit kooky. He was ahead of his time, even something as simple as the new No Needles Policy, he was already trying to do that in the eighties. How would you compare him with, say, David Brailsford?
RM: I think that comparison is absolutely valid. As with Brailsford, Köchli saw himself as an outsider, and he reckoned (correctly, I think) that this conferred a number of advantages: he wasn't steeped in the old traditions and methods. But it also brought disadvantages: he had to overcome the perception that he wasn't ‘one of the gang.' And he clearly had - or developed - a chip on his shoulder as a result of this. You could maybe say the same of Brailsford - there's such a desire to succeed, but also to be accepted into this strange world of pro cycling. And the chip explains the drive, of course.
Köchli is one of the most interesting people I've ever interviewed. I didn't know what to expect when I went to see him (though I was intrigued, because he seemed so mysteriously cagey on the phone and in emails) but I was blown away by him; by the way he explained his philosophy in such thorough detail, and his generosity with his time (and the fact that he and his wife made me a lovely dinner before I drove back across the mountains to Besançon).
Köchli is a real thinker, an intellectual and (like Brailsford) a lover of science and ‘numbers' - and he has also the passion and enthusiasm of someone like Brailsford. A fellow journalist, Daniel Friebe, said on reading Slaying the Badger that Köchli's racing philosophy reminded him of the Dutch approach to football - ‘total football.' That's absolutely right: La Vie Claire pioneered ‘total cycling.' Wish I'd thought of that comparison for the book... (it'll be in later editions, with no acknowledgement of Daniel, obviously).
Another thing about Köchli, though. Despite being an ‘outsider' he was tremendously lucky to be absolutely accepted by (and therefore have the stamp of approval of) Hinault - and also Guimard, who, as you say, studied his course. I think it reflects very well on Hinault that he was so open to his ideas.
Then there was Köchli's attitude to drugs, of course - which definitely marked him out as an outsider. As far as I can establish, his anti-drugs policy was genuine and successful, to a point. There may have been more traditional ‘parties' in the team who didn't toe the line. And he couldn't watch them twenty-four hours a day. But I believe he did what he could.
A footnote on Köchli is that he read an early manuscript of the book (as he'd requested at the outset - that was a very important condition of speaking to me) and then I became aware that he was trying to contact me for a few days. "Uh-oh," I thought - I wasn't sure if he'd approve of his depiction as a "kooky professor." (I know he hated it in the 80s) and I was bracing myself for a ticking off. When I finally spoke to him he went through the book, page by page, correcting the tiniest of errors or details that weren't absolutely to his satisfaction, and adding a lot more besides (some of which I was able to add). He was on the phone for about an hour and a half, and I heard from him a couple more times after that with other clarifications. It was enormously flattering. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him.
PdC: Looking at the some of the riders in the book. You've two great interviews, one with Hinault, one with LeMond, underpinning the book. Rather than asking about them - people should read the book, right? - I want to mention your interview with Andy Hampsten. Is he really that lovely and polite in real life or have you had to air-brush his words to make him seem so damned nice?
RM: In a word, yes. And no - no air-brushing or touching up required. I fixed up the interview for a date and a time and, when I called him, he answered, and he launched into his memories of the race and the era - and of Hinault and LeMond. But I thought I heard, mid-interview, the rustling of paper, and I had the impression that he might have been reading from notes. I could be wrong (it seemed rude to ask) but I wondered if he had actually prepared for our interview. In which case he probably prepared more than me! But he was the same when I interviewed him for In Search of Robert Millar. Very obliging, very generous - and very nice.
PdC: Something that comes across in the Hampsten interview is how much affection he had - has - for Hinault. It's not just respect. It's practically love. The same thing I think came across in Fignon's autobiography, that whatever their differences, whatever their different positions, Fignon really loved Hinault. Hinault really earned the respect of his team-mates. For Hampsten though, that changed - to some extent - on the '86 Tour.
RM: I found this very touching. And it shows a different side to Hinault - a side that most of us, certainly the media, opponents and fans, perhaps never saw. As Hampsten said, Hinault gave him "an armchair ride" to one of the biggest wins of his career (and a very significant one, given its timing) at the 1986 Tour of Switzerland.
This warm impression that some developed of Hinault maybe had quite a lot to do with his intimidating presence, though - and his aura. If you're in your early twenties and this incredible man - and I think it should be italicised - actually takes the trouble to talk to you, and to help you, it would leave quite an impression, I'd imagine. You'd be flattered. It's a bit like a young boy getting a pat on the head from the prime minister. Not that I'm suggesting Hinault wasn't genuine - he did seem to be a very good leader not only in the sense of taking responsibility in the big races, but also helping team-mates in the smaller ones. Which was smart, of course, because the more loyalty they felt towards him, the more they'd help him when he needed help (if he needed help, which didn't always seem the case).
My impression was that the 1986 Tour was traumatic for Hampsten, and that he saw the different side to Hinault there - the warrior, consumed by the ‘destructive rage.' With niceness, of course, often comes sensitivity and it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that Hampsten didn't enjoy the experience, or the internal warfare.
PdC: The warmth there was for Hinault ... there doesn't seem to have been the same warmth for LeMond. You suggest that some of this may be down to his comments about Lance Armstrong, but I think it was there when he was a rider too, no? He was respected, yes, and he earned that respect. But ... well he had a reputation for following wheels, and he played by his own rules.
RM: Well, I think there was probably suspicion of him because he didn't immerse himself in - and actually resisted - so many aspects of European culture. Reading books at the table, eating with his shirt off on one occasion, preferring Mexican food to French food, despising the two-hour lunches - none of this would have endeared him to many of his team-mates. Those English-speakers who did become popular - Sean Kelly is the best example - really did immerse themselves in that culture; Kelly was all but Belgian. And as Köchli told me, he didn't want Stephen Roche in La Vie Claire because he was trying to rid the team of its French influences - "and Roche was more French than the French!"
LeMond was a kind of rebel. Those who really knew him, though, loved him. Robert Millar - another rebel - was a big fan. Hampsten spoke about how "Greg always liked to have fun." There's the story of him breaking the atmosphere at dinner one night during the 1986 Tour by shouting inappropriately at Bernard Tapie, the big boss. He was audacious and courageous in his own way.
Having said all that, Steve Bauer described him as "pretty selfish." And Roche wasn't his greatest fan; he thought he was always complaining about something. As for the way he rode, he was a counter-attacker, I guess. But I suspect that owes to the character traits I mention at the top - he was (is) a thinker and a worrier; I can imagine that he'd be always calculating, his mind working out all the possible permutations, before committing himself. Whereas Hinault could be impetuous, impulsive - a man of action rather than thought. Sometimes it worked and looked great, but on occasions - such as during the '84 Tour, and '86 I'd argue - he ended up looking a bit ridiculous.
I would challenge anyone to spend any amount of time with LeMond and not end up liking him enormously. And it's probably because of all the thinking he's done over the years - his recall is extraordinary. When he talks about these races he re-lives them.
PdC: I want to mention some of the photos you have in Slaying the Badger - it's a particularly good selection. One from the 1985 Tour, Hinault, LeMond and Kelly sitting on the podium steps, waiting for the ceremonies to get under way, each looking lost in their own thoughts, is especially good. How involved were you in the process of selecting the book's images?
RM: Well, thanks for that, and I'm glad you think so. I feel rather embarrassed now to say that I picked the pictures, but I did. (To balance that up, I also wrote the captions, including the one with the error - I'll send a copy of the book to the first Podium Cafe reader to spot it - Tweet me.) Most of the pics came from l'Équipe's archive, but there were one or two others that I found in books or magazines, and I couldn't always track down the photographer. The one of Guimard in the car, bare-topped and curly-haired (looking like a 1970s porn star), chatting to Hinault - that was ripped out the pages of an out-of-print book. I also love James Startt's picture of Hinault and LeMond in 2008: the body language is great. I was very keen to include a contemporary pic.
PdC: You say that one of your objectives in writing Slaying the Badger was to separate fact from fiction. Given the role myths play in this sport, that was a pretty ambitious objective. How do you think you did?
RM: Yes, the truth can be a nebulous concept in this sport. I did acknowledge at the start that there are always ‘multiple truths'. 210 riders started that Tour, so that means 210 versions of the truth, or 210 truths.
I wonder if these days the ‘truth' is less slippery, with Twitter and social networking providing riders and other ‘witnesses' with the opportunity to give their version of events, and set the record straight more or less instantly. It would be a shame if that were the case, because one of the most appealing aspects of the sport is its myths and legends - myths and legends that have been constructed on truths, half-truths, imagined truths, embellished truths and (probably) un-truths.
I'll kind of answer this question below as well, but I can't be sure if I separated fact from fiction. I was pleased to get an email from Kathy LeMond, Greg's wife, saying that she found herself re-living the race while reading the book, and that there were things in the book she didn't know; I daresay there will be things that Hinault didn't know, either. And I am sure there are lots of things I still don't know.
PdC: Cast you mind back to 1986: who did the thirteen-year-old Richard Moore want to win, Hinault or LeMond?
RM: Hinault. He was a fucking rock star.
PdC: And the adult Richard Moore - did you change your allegiance at all as you wrote the book?
RM: Yes. I have enormous respect for Hinault - I don't think there's ever been another rider like him. I even admire his arrogance - to the extent of almost being in awe of it (there's nothing worse than someone who is arrogant without any justification, but I'm not sure that applies to Hinault).
But you'd need a heart of stone (Hinault??) not to warm to LeMond, and to find him tremendously endearing. He too is a one-off, an eccentric - and, as with Robert Millar, I look back on what he did, and how he did it, with new admiration from a distance of twenty-five years. It's easy to say that he whined and moaned, and he may have been paranoid, during that 1986 Tour. But imagine what it must have been like not only to take on Hinault - but to do so from inside his team? I don't think I'd have lasted five minutes in that kind of situation. (Remember Contador said his toughest opponent during the 2009 Tour, when he went up against his team-mate Armstrong, was "the hotel." I'd imagine the La Vie Claire hotel during the 1986 Tour would be a pretty forbidding place.)
That was also kind of the purpose of the opening anecdote about LeMond's bout of diarrhoea. OK, so it's entertaining, but it illustrates the hardships, and also, as Paul Kimmage said, how tough LeMond was. Kimmage said he had the impression of LeMond, before that, of being "classy but soft." Witnessing his suffering that day helped change his perception. I think in the 1986 Tour he had to endure a lot - diarrhoea was the least of it - and it would have broken a lesser man.
PdC: The legacy question. British cycling in the eighties had so much potential. Channel 4 and Kellogg's were pouring money into the sport. You had Robert Millar and Sean Yates putting in wonderful rides. You got the dividend from all the other post-Empire English-speaking riders - the Irish, the Americans, the Canadians, the Australians. Even the Comic had to stop writing so much about time trials and pay attention to road racing. LeMond winning the Tour in '86 - and then the year Roche had in '87 - everything looked so bright for the sport in these islands. And then it all seemed to collapse with the failure of ANC-Halfords and a decade, a decade and a half, was lost. Was that simply down to the powers-that-be failing to grasp the opportunity and put in place the necessary infrastructure?
RM: I don't think it is - or was - only down the powers-that-be. It's that old cultural thing, isn't it? Much as the Kellogg's crits were great - spectator- and TV-friendly - they weren't exactly the Tour of Flanders or Milan-Sanremo. It said something about the sporting audience in Britain that the only kind of cycling that was palatable was - with all due respect - Mickey Mouse racing on small circuits in city centres. In Belgium, as you know, they stand for hours waiting for a glimpse of the riders; in Britain, it seemed, cycle racing could only be ‘sold' to and bought by the public if they could see (virtually) all the action. In other words, it had to resemble the sports that are part of our culture - football, rugby, cricket.
Ironically the fact that so much of a bike race takes place away from the gaze of the punters (or the TV) cameras explains much of its appeal; and it's what makes it such fertile ground for books. There is so much left to the imagination and to individual interpretation (this links to your question above about establishing ‘the truth') that you can really, as a writer or fan, have a lot of fun with it.
Back to the legacy question: when British Cycling really did have an opportunity to make serious inroads as a ‘cycling nation' - when they got huge amounts of lottery funding from 1997 - they chose to invest that in track cycling rather than road. Peter Keen, the performance director at the time, explained this to me for another book, Heroes, Villains and Velodromes. And, to be honest, his explanation made perfect sense. His paymasters, UK Sport, wanted success at the Olympics and world championships - the velodrome provided more medals, and was, arguably, easier to crack. As they've since proved.
But the drugs issue was another factor in him not putting the money into road racing - and you could say he was vindicated here, too. Team Sky is the first serious attempt by British cycling to really compete at that level of road racing, and there are signs, perhaps, that a ‘serious cycling culture' (by which I mean an appreciation of road racing, continental style - a biased opinion) is developing/has developed. Of course, Team Sky is a work in progress, but you'll have to get my next book, Sky's the Limit, to read about that...!
PdC: Speaking of that ... are you in competition with William Fotheringham for the prize of most industrious British writer of cycling books? Last year he had Fallen Angel appearing in paperback along with his translation of Fignon's We Were Young and Carefree and his own Cyclopedia hitting the shelves. This year you have two original books - Slaying the Badger and Sky's The Limit - appearing within a couple of weeks of one another. And you've contributed a foreword to the re-issue of Jeff Connor's Wide-Eyed and Legless.
RM: I don't think the market's been saturated yet, there are still lots of stories to write. I will give you a heads-up that Daniel Friebe is working on a book that I think will be very timely and very good, to come out next June.
But there has been a bit of a glut of cycling books recently, and the fact that, for all there are lots of stories still to write, there didn't seem an obvious next one to do, kind of leads into my answer to your next question...
PdC: Ok then, so what's next for you, books wise?
RM: I'm actually writing a non-cycling book at the moment. It's about sport. Drugs feature heavily (cycling gives you some transferable skills). And it'll come out before - and to tie in with - the Olympics. It's not dissimilar to Slaying the Badger in the sense that the focus of the story will be a sporting rivalry of two very different, very fascinating, individuals. I'm enjoying the research enormously, and I'm very excited about it. But I can't say any more than that...
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Richard Moore is the author of In Search of Robert Millar (HarperSport), Heroes, Villains and Velodromes (HarperSport), Slaying the Badger (Yellow Jersey Press) and Sky's The Limit (HarperSport). He also ghost-wrote Chris Hoy - The Autobiography (HarperSport).
Our thanks to Richard Moore for taking the time to participate in this interview.