By Graham Healy
Tomorrow, Bernard Hinault will celebrate his 60th birthday, and to mark the occasion, we’re looking back at one of the many colourful incidents in his career which resulted in the iconic photo above.
It was on the 174-kilometre fifth stage of the 1984 Paris-Nice from Miramas to La Seyne-sur-Mer when the incident took place. Robert Millar had started the stage as race leader, but a break went clear on the descent of the Col de l’Espigoulier which the Scot missed.
Hinault was leading the breakaway group, followed by Seán Kelly and Phil Anderson, when they found the road blocked by protesting shipyard workers. It was a regular enough occurrence as strikers saw blocking a race as an easy opportunity to gain publicity.
Most of the group slowed down and loosened their toe straps, but Hinault didn’t. Hinault ploughed into the group, and started swinging punches at the nearest strikers. He was enraged, but from the footage of the incident, it’s difficult to know how may punches he landed.
I spoke to Kelly years after the incident, and asked him about it. “We just stood back and left Hinault to it,” said Kelly.
In Richard Moore’s book, Slaying the Badger, Hinault explains his actions. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s the only free spectacle we can bring to the public, and it’s the only one that gets any bother because it’s easy. They took us hostage on the road. At the stage the race was on, we’d just broken Millar, he was forty five seconds behind, and I was trying to win Paris-Nice. So I didn’t want people coming and bothering me; the race was on. And maybe I lost because of that. When they’re at work, I don’t go and bother them. I let them work, so they should let me work.”
The stage was won by Eddy Planckaert ahead of Kelly and Hinault. The race would be won overall a few days later by Kelly for his third of seven consecutive wins. Stephen Roche was second 12” behind with Hinault in third, 1’46” down on Kelly. However, the race is remembered as much for this incident as it is for Kelly winning. I’m not sure if the shipyard workers got whatever they were looking for, but they did find out that day that you don’t mess with The Badger.