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1985 Hinault vs. LeMond vs. CBS Sports

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I know many or all of you are well versed in the results on the road in the near-Epic 1985 Tour, so I won't recount it in too great detail. Just that it was near-epic, featuring a great champion heading into winter and his hand-picked (American) replacement... and not much else. Well, Stephen Roche, and undoubtedly plenty of action-packed stages, but the American broadcast was 100% LeMond vs Hinault.

My friend Steve had just introduced me to the sport, and I was in the process of getting lapped in some local crits and saving my summer earnings for a Bianchi. So, although I'm sure I'd be appalled by such coverage now, I was probably one of the chief beneficiaries of CBS's simplified coverage.

OK, first a couple of quick links: Wikipedia has a separate entry for the '85 Tour, and there's a really cool French site called Memoire du Cyclisme which you really shouldn't miss. Here's the 1985 recap.

These sites explain the race better than I would, but the drama as spoon-fed to us concerned Hinault's legendary but fading stature, versus LeMond's date with destiny. And the results from these links remind me this was so: Hinault won one time trial, put time into his rivals on stage 13, then kind of gently coasted home (well, except literally; he face-planted a sprint). Missing were the powerful Renaults, though Eric Vanderaerden, the two Irish stars Kelly & Roche, and some vaguely threatening Colombians who kept winning every climb while hemorrhaging time in the ITTs were around to make things interesting. But, like I said, it was a two-man show.

CBS explained to us in great detail how La Vie Claire was the super-team, and even did a painful reenactment of an American style pre-game intro where each rider's name was called and they jogged out to the camera and mugged. Even Hinault. Unbelievably awkward. Let's just say Merckx would never have gone along with this.

Anyway, as the weeks went on (coverage was just Saturdays and Sundays, maybe an hour or so scattered among the other sports they were covering), CBS ramped up the drama, and hammered into our heads that LeMond was good enough to win the Tour. Sounded great to us, and we were almost as disappointed during the stage to (I think) the Col d'Aubisque when LeMond and Stephen Roche were ready to fly the coop. CBS got right in Greg's face: "I'm just saying if Bernard were in my place, he wouldn't have waited," Greg told his DS Paul Koechli afterwards, explaining his anger at being told to leave the attack and wait for Hinault. Had LeMond kept going, he could have easily wiped away the 1:20 or so deficit to the yellow jersey.

We got mildly shocked when LeMond snapped to an eavesdropper "do you want me to punch you in the face? Get out of here!" And the shots of a bitter LeMond, almost speechless, head in his hands. Later when Koechli responded to a question about why hold LeMond back, "if he can, that is the question," meaning LeMond maybe wasn't capable of winning... it was like shoving a jagged, salty margarita glass in our wounds.

Considering what happened next year, when Hinault pledged to return the favor, there is comparatively little debate about La vie Claire's actions. Hinault was team leader, not to mention a Frenchman joining the Tour Winners' Pantheon, and the team hogged all the glory in the end. So whether LeMond should have attacked to get first overall is kind of academic, and anyway a major taboo. That's cycling, we learned -- probably the most useful effect of watching CBS's coverage -- and LeMond had plenty of chances coming his way. We just had to be patient.