CALORGUEN, France, Nov 12, 2014 (AFP) – Lance Armstrong has become a stain
on the glorious cycling memories of French legend Bernard Hinault who says he
would refuse to speak to the shamed American rider.
Cycling has an unfair reputation over drug-taking, according to the
five-time Tour de France winner who marks his 60th birthday on Friday as one
of the most popular living Frenchmen.
Hinault told Bicycle.net in an interview that he has had a “dream life” in cycling
but that doping scandals that have made the sport notorious “hurt all those
who love cycling”.
“But they should look at all sports. Cycling is no more rotten than the
others,” he declared. “People are always picking on cycling.”
But mention Armstrong and his mood darkens. “If I met him today I would not
talk to him. I would not even say hello.”
Hinault was the last French winner of the Tour de France 29 years ago and
the long wait for a successor from his home country also pains him.
“Today we don’t have a complete rider capable of racing at 50 kilometers
(30 miles) an hour and keeping up with the best climbers.
“We have plenty of good ones with the right temperament. But even with the
temperament, you are not the best if you cannot win.”
But despite those nags, Hinault, who lives on a converted farm at Calorguen
in Britanny, said he has no regrets about his own career.
“If tomorrow, you asked me ‘you are 20 you start again’, I would restart
the same life,” he said. “I have a dream life, I wish everyone could have a
life like me.”
At the entrance to his farm, he keeps the gloves, shorts and cycling
jerseys he uses now. In a nearby cabinet are the cups and medals that set out
Hinault’s incredible achievements — five Tour de France titles (1978-79,
1981-82, 1985), three Giro d’Italia and two Spanish Vuelta. He said he got the
same pleasure winning each race.
– not a single regret –
Hinault said his own retirement was carefully prepared and decided six
years before he was 32.
“I stopped on November 11 and we had a big party, not a funeral, and on the
19th I was already working for ASO.” Hinault does public relations work for
ASO, the Tour de France organisers.
That meant he missed out on trying for a sixth Tour title.
“Would I have been happier if I had done two years more. I could have won
the Tour again. But I don’t have a single regret,” he declared.
For 20 years he split his time between his farm with 150 Charolais cattle
and ASO, mainly keeping his bike in the garage.
“I didn’t have the time. I was working 360 days a year. You are not going
to go riding for the five days left.”
But a few years back, Hinault sold the cattle and started riding again on
the nearby rural roads.
“I ride two or three times a week, between 80 and 100 kilometers (50 and 60
miles). There is the same pleasure even if we go slower,” he said.
Hinault says he remembers every race, starting with his first big win at
the age of 16 in a local race that ended in sa print finish.
He also remembers his rivalry with American Greg LeMond, Frenchman Laurent
Fignon and particularly Dutch rider Joop Zoetemelk.
Zoetemelk came second six times in the Tour de France — three of those
behind Hinault. “He gave me the most trouble,” said Hinault.
Now they are friends. The two families have been on holiday to the Dutch
West Indies and ridden up Alpe d’Huez for a Dutch television charity programme.
“That is the spirit of sport. At 9:00am we start the fight, at 5:00pm we
finish, at 7:00pm we eat and laugh together. The fight starts again the next