Born in Paris on 12th August 1960, Fignon grew up playing more football than riding his bike. Even his parents didn’t want him to go down the professional cycling path. Nevertheless, he still managed to race without his parents knowledge, winning races profusely from the outset. In his third year as an amateur, Fignon won 18 out of 36 races, remarkable for any athlete, especially one so raw. The cycling world quickly fell in love with the classy Frenchman seeing his immediate pedigree as a Grand Tour rider.
In his second year as a professional, Fignon took on the 1983 Tour de France for the Renault team. It was actually by chance that he secured this opportunity, with previous team leader Bernard Hinault withdrawing due to injury. He took the opportunity with both hands, and won the Tour in a remarkable show of youthful panache and experienced racing. In the 1984 edition of the Tour, FIgnon was now up against his former teammate Hinault, providing the scene for one of the most epic battles in Tour history. In a seesawing race, it was on the 16th stage where Fignon made the decisive move. Hinault launched attack after attack on Fignon, without success. Then just before the finish Fignon produced the counted move, dropping Hinault and ultimately taking the stage win and the Tour for a second year in a row.
As was a man whose career had already included back-to-back victories in the Tour de France, Fignon was most remembered for losing the 1989 Tour to Greg LeMond by just 8 seconds. But when people question him about this, the proud Frenchman would answer “No Monsieur, I am the man who won the Tour twice.”
He was a rider with absolute steal and humanity. “I was myself and nothing else, neither a fantasy, nor a transposition of something else. I was just a man who did what I could to beat a path towards dignity and emancipation. I did my best to be a human being.”
Born in Florence on July 18, 1914, Gino Bartali was a typical Tuscan: hard working, hard-headed and deeply religious. Although nicknamed “Gino the Pious”, Bartali was ruthless on the road. Early in his career, two famed Italian sprinters tried to box him in at the finish of a road race. Instead of going around them, he rode right between them, causing all three to crash in a bloody mess. After that, no one tried to box in Gino.
Bartali owns the largest gap between Tour de France victories, having finished in the Maillot Jaune in 1938 and 1948. He was also the first rider to win the Tour de France overall title and mountains classification jersey in the one year. His riding style was something that was unmatched and smooth. Never danced on the pedals and often stayed seated throughout a 15km climb, even when others attacked.
In addition to his prowess in the mountains of the Grand Tours, Gino was also a force in one-day events. He won the Milan-San Remo four times, the Tour of Lombardy three times, and the Championship of Zurich twice. Bartali didn’t compete often in the major classics outside of Italy because, at the time, they weren’t deemed that important to the Italian riders and fans.
Nevertheless Bartali was a complete rider in both the Grand Tours and major classics with more than 170 professional victories. The third rider to be featured in Black Sheep Cycling Tour de France Legends is Gino Bartali. Continuing Black Sheep Cycling’s special feature on the greatest Tour De France legends of all time, today we pay homage to the amazing Bernard Hinault.
Bernard Hinault’s career has the palmarès that make him a strong candidate for The Greatest Rider of All-Time. The Frenchman won the Tour de France four times in a row from 1978 to 1982, then added to this already special list again in 1985. His victory in 1979 was the stuff of legends, winning the Point’s Classification, also known as the Sprinter’s Jersey. He is one of only six cyclists to have won all three Grand Tours, and one of three cyclists to have won each more than once.
Hinault was nicknamed ‘Le Blaireau’ (The Badger) by local cyclists’, alluding to the aggression that both a Badger and Hinault showed when cornered. Hinault was famously quoted, “As long as I live and breathe, I attack”. Le Blaireau sure did, and his aggression gave birth to a legion of fans and a golden era for cycling.
Hinault’s record, in the Grand Tours at least, may have indeed been even brighter had it not been for knee problems. Hinault was forced to abandon the Tour in 1980 because of a severe case of tendonitits in his knee and was forced to miss the Tour in 1983 consequently due to a knee operation.
In 1985, Hinault won the Tour de France thanks to the help from a young American, Greg Lemond. In a pre-determined arrangement, Hinault was to then work for Lemond in the 1986 Tour, passing the metaphorical baton to the new generation. Le Blaireau couldn’t contain the animal within, and launched attack after attack on his team mate, taking the Yellow Jersey for himself on Stage 12. The two matched pedal strokes for the next four stages, until Hinault cracked on Stage 17 in the Alps, relinquishing the maillot jaune. Lemond went on to win the 1986 Tour, and ultimately begin his own story towards the pinnacle of our great sport.