as “le Maitre” (the Master, or
Maestro), some have a play on
their names like Laurent “Ja-Ja”
Jalabert, Jacky “Du-Du” Durand,
or Raymond “Pou-Pou” Poulidor.
Probably the most descriptive, and
most appropriate nickname of all
though, was the one they gave to
Hinault: “le Blaireau,” the Badger.
The legend of Hinault looms over
French cycling in the same way that
Merckx hangs over his own country.
In Belgium, whenever a young rider
shows some promise, they have the
“next Merckx” tag hung on them
with the associated pressure; it’s
the same in France, says Hinault.
France can dope, and win, while riders
from France cannot.
This is something that Hinault has
always refused to accept.
“I don’t think they do enough training,”
It’s a nickname that Hinault has been
particularly proud to carry. “When
you hunt this animal,” he explained,
“it retreats to its burrow, but when it
comes out, it attacks!”
This is something that particularly fits
to his characteristics, he feels.
“In France, yes,” he agreed.
“Whenever a rider is good they say
‘the next Hinault!’ But gently, gently,
let’s see how good they can be.”
But if not a new Hinault, where will
the next rider come from that can
challenge for a home win in the Tour
Some have argued over the years
that many of the top French
riders have convinced themselves
that the two speeds existed and
effectively talked themselves out
of contention. This is something
that he is prepared to accept.
“Yes, it’s a like a disease,” he agreed,
“they are stupid!”
“At the beginning of the season the
journalists wrote that I wasn’t ready, I
wasn’t good,” he said. “So I returned
home, I prepared myself physically
and then I attacked!”
“I don’t know,” said Hinault. “We
have some great juniors, world
champions, but afterwards nothing.
Something happens somewhere,
Hinault is known for the no-nonsense
character he displayed on the bike,
and still shows today, which is much
of what earned him his nickname.
Since the infamous “Affaire Festina”
at the 1998 Tour, many French riders
have complained of “cyclise a due
witnesses,” or cycling at two speeds,
where they have been subjected to
far greater controls than riders of
other nations. This means, they have
claimed, that riders from outside
Those same riders who have ridden
their entire careers without apparent
hope of taking one of the big races, have
referred to themselves as the ‘génération
Perdue,’ the lost generation. This is also
something that Hinault accepts.
“Yes,” he said. “The generation of
riders who are between 20 and 22 years
of age are the future of French cycling.”
“I’m French,” he said. “It’s from my
country, but mostly from the Breton
country. Mon caractère est Breton!”
There is hope, then, says Hinault, in
finding a future Tour winner—if not
the “next Hinault”—among
the young riders who are
just breaking into the
“We talk about [Mickaël]
Chérel a lot, but when you
see how he finished the
Giro d’Italia … people
The 25-year-old Chérel
ended the race in 62nd
place, but rode a very
poor final time trial. He
raised a laugh by illegally
drafting Eros Capecchi,
who’d caught him for
a minute, but slumped
to 119th on the stage.
He is not the only name
though. “We are also
watching our juniors, like