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Aérogramme 2016

Aérogramme: The Badger Gets Sentimental

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“Here, come on inside,” says five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault, “We’ll be more relaxed.” The off-handed comment by one of France’s greatest cycling legends sums up just how un-relaxed Hinault’s life really is when he is at a bike race. Stepping outside in the Tour de France VIP village, and Hinault is immediately thronged by autograph seekers and journalists alike. There is rarely any downtime. Hinault accepts the accolades with little emotion and says in his typical matter-of-fact manner, “I’m just a human being like everybody. I’m a human that being that won some bike races. That’s all.”

Words & images: James Startt – European Associate to peloton

From: Limoges, France

As a bike racer Hinault was known as a fierce competitor. “He was not a cyclist. He was a boxer,” says Cyril Guimard, who coached Hinault to his first four Tour victories. And in the year’s since he retired from the sport, he has maintained his assurance, rarely showing any emotion. “His coolness is the one thing that linked his sporting career with his year’s working for the Tour,” says Jean-Emmanuel Ducoin, journalist for L’Humanité, the French Communist newspaper. Ducoin has followed Hinault’s career for more than 35 years.

But this year, something seemed to change for Hinault, when he announced that he would retire after the start of the 2017 Tour de France. “I never saw my own son grow up,” he said. “Now I have a grandson, and I want to be present for him.” For some the announcement revealed previously unseen sentimentalism in the cyclist otherwise known as “The Badger.” It was a kindler, gentler side of Hinault witnessed by few in the sport.

Aérogramme presented by Giordana#GiordanaCycling

“My grandfather taught me so many things and I want to give that to my grandson,” Hinault said when speaking of the birth of his grandson Armand in 2014. “Seeing my grandson reminded me of everything my grandfather gave me. And I want to be able to be part of my grandson’s upbringing, to give something to him.”

Hinault grew up in rural Brittany, in the small town of Yffiniac and he always celebrated his agrarian and working class roots. “My grandfather was a farmer and my father laid train tracks for the railway. My grandfather ploughed the earth with horses. Growing up in the country really teaches you to be independent, to fend for yourself, and my working-class background really gave me a work ethic needed to succeed in cycling.”

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Immediately after retiring from cycling, Hinault returned to farming, and raised calves. He maintained his farm alongside of his work with ASO, the Tour de France organizers, until 2006. Representing ASO 140 days each year, he would then return to his farm, getting up at five in the morning each day to tend his livestock.

Hinault draws no lines between his different careers. He makes no distinction between his days battling Greg LeMond for Tour de France victory, those spent on the farm, or those spent in a Tour de France car welcoming guests to the race. “Life is just a series of challenges,” Hinault says. “And when one stops, another starts.”

“You know, in Brittany there are two types of people, those that look to the sea and those that look to the earth,” says Ducoin. “Hinault was part of the later. Hinault was one of those that turned his back to the sea. You know when he stopped raising cattle, he saw it as a setback. He is of the earth. And when he leaves the sport next year, he will return to the earth. And he couldn’t be happier!”

Check back daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.