30 for 30 Presents Heroes and Villains

Greg LeMond is the only American to win the Tour de France. Think about that for a second. No, this wasn’t written in 1986 after LeMond’s victory, nor is this some alternate universe. Look up; there are no passenger airships above us. The history books will tell you Lance Armstrong’s infamous “Look” never happened, and that Floyd Landis’ miraculous comeback the day after his epic bonk never took place either. As in so many comic books, history has been rewritten. But this time, the winner wasn’t holding the pen.

Like some of you, I wake up at Too Bloody Early in the morning to watch the Tour de France; all while thinking I should still be in bed. It is a yearly ritual that fuels my love of riding a bicycle while simultaneously making me question my sanity. In the early 1980s I didn’t have that luxury–all I had were highlights on CBS’s weekend coverage. Cable television, and ESPN Sportscenter, didn’t make it to my neck of the woods until 1988. The main, if not only, reason CBS covered the race was because of American rider Greg LeMond; much in the same way that OLN started covering the Tour live because of Lance Armstrong.

The 30 for 30 film “Slaying the Badger” chronicles Greg LeMond’s battles with Bernard Hinault a.k.a. “The Badger;” so named not only for his resemblance to the creature, but for his tenacity as well. An extra layer to the drama is the fact that the two were teammates on La Vie Claire. Unlike VH1’s “Behind the Music,” there is no formula that makes for a memorable entry in the 30 for 30 series, but I have to say that the teammate angle is an attention getter.

After winning the tour in 1985, with considerable help and sacrifice from LeMond, Hinault pledged to support his teammate the following year. But once you get into the heat of compitition, plans tend to change. We all know the outcome, yet I don’t want to spoil the details for those that are unfamiliar with the story–it is well worth your time, even if you don’t care about cycling. Like a lot of sports movies, true or fictional, it isn’t always about the sport, but about the people involved. See also: Rush.

I have read some reviews that stated that the real star of “Slaying the Badger” is the Badger himself: Bernard Hinault. I can sort of see the point. Despite conducting his interviews in French, Hinault comes across as engaging and gregarious. In fact, he isn’t the mustache twirling Bond villain many would lead you to believe.

Not that Greg LeMond, nor his wife Kathy, paint Hinault as such… Not in the present day anyway. In the recent interviews they seem rather matter-of-fact about the situation, but in interviews conducted at the time there is a lot of anger and frustration, a hint of paranoia, and a metric ton of disbelief.

LeMond believed that Hinault was a man of his word, and maybe that is what Hinault wanted him to believe. The problem was that Hinault wasn’t the only problem. LeMond also had to deal with team owner, Bernard Tapie, and sporting director, Paul Koechli. Koechli was the man with the plan . . . That is when Hinault wasn’t making it up on the fly.

As for Tapie, his story would make for a great film–if anyone would believe it. He is kind of like The Most Interesting Man in the World if The Most Interesting Man in the World ever held a job. Tapie was a singer, actor, politician, businessman, and even did a stint in prison for fraud. Quick! Someone get Martin Scorsese on the phone.

At the end of the day, the record shows that Hinault is a five time Tour de France winner and that LeMond won it three times; he probably would have won more if he hadn’t been shot, accidentally, by his brother-in-law. It’s always the brother-in-law… Or the crazy uncle.

See? I told you it was a good story.

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