Bernard Hinault was brilliant. Le Blaireau was stubborn, strong, and had a great racing instinct - and a great DS. I never saw him race live, but looking at old videos and reading countless books when finding out about the sport, I wished I had. He won the 1983 Vuelta on one leg, attacking over mountains near the end to win, but the tendinitis he had forced him out of the Tour. Now, it was as close a thing to certain as you can get that Hinault would have won that Tour had he started, riding for the yellow, white and black striped Renault team, but as he didn't, leadership fell to the cannon that fired him to his Vuelta win - 23-year-old Tour newcomer Laurent Fignon. This left an unbelievably open Tour. Lucien Van Impe, the only Tour winner there, was 36. Fignon was deemed as too young. Not too many people were talking about Pascal Simon, one of the leaders of Peugeot, and Fignon wasn't overawed with him either, despite his "win" in the Dauphiné Libere. (A positive test would be discovered after the Tour).
The yellow jersey started on the shoulders of Eric Vanderaerden, who won the prologue, but found itself on the shoulders of Kim Andersen, and then Seán Kelly, before the first and only Pyrenean stage, stage 10, over the "Circle of Death," the passes of the Aubisque, Aspin, Tourmalet and Peyresourde. Robert Millar and the Tour's first Colombian, Jose Patrocino Jimenez fought out the stage, with Millar taking the win. However, that day he was followed on to the podium by Peugeot team mate Pascal Simon. Simon had ridden an excellent race, coming in third, just a minute behind Millar, and over three ahead of the pre-race favourites.
After his Dauphiné "win" Simon was looking like a shoo-in by this stage. He had the yellow jersey, with Fignon, a 23-year-old in second, and four minutes and twenty-two seconds behind. But it's never quite that simple. Early on stage 11, the day after he took the jersey, Simon went down in what Fignon describes as "one of those ridiculous little crashes." He cracked his shoulder blade. He didn't want to quit, and soldiered on through six more flat and hilly days, and even kept yellow in an uphill time-trial up the Puy de Dome, but by this stage his lead was down to fifty-two seconds, and forty before the Alps.
It was on stage 17 that he finally abandoned. He made it through part of the stage, but there was no helping him once he broke. It was on a small climb named the Cote de Chapelle when he left the Tour, the pain was too strong. Peter Winnen took the stage, Laurent Fignon took the yellow jersey, holding it to Paris. He would only win one stage, the final time-trial, but Guimard, his DS made him sprint for time bonuses in what could almost be called paranoia, and he still won by four minutes, from a guy also in his first TDF. Simon never did so well again, with a next best of seventh the following year. He has this to say on the matter:
"I don't know whether I'd have won," Simon says now. "I could have had a big setback in one of the mountain stages. And then there was the time-trial stage, which isn't my specialty. But one thing is certain and that's that there was no favourite that year. The race was open and it was a time to make the most of it. Afterwards, there was the big battle between Hinault and Fignon."
I think he'd have won. In a sort of nice conclusion to the saga, his brother Francois took the yellow jersey on Alpe d'Huez in 2001, saying that his brother told him to get the jersey back for him.
Whatever the result, riding on for a week with an injury like that is unbelievably brave. Chapeau Pascal.