Part 3: A Badger in the Snow
Like Chris Froome this year, by the spring of 1980 Bernard Hinault had won both the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana and wanted to pocket the Giro d’Italia too. Back then, the Giro d’Italia was much less international – the bulk of entrants were Italians, although curiously 6 of the previous 10 editions had been won by Belgians. The only Frenchman to have won was Jacques Anquetil in 1960 and 1964.
25 year-old Hinault came to the Giro on the back of his now-legendary victory in the polar conditions of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. On paper Hinault was the favourite for the Giro d’Italia, just as Froome was this year, but the Frenchman and his wily Directeur Sportif Cyrille Guimard knew that winning the hearts of the tifosi would be as important as beating the opposition. The Italian fans were notoriously partisan and foreign riders faced the very real possibility of their race being wrecked by a punch in the ribs. So Hinault and Guimard learnt Italian before the race, and during the first week staged a well-publicised visit to Fausto Coppi’s village to pay homage to the great man.
Hinault first took the maglia rosa on the 5th stage, a 36km individual time-trial to Pisa. Two days later however, Hinault let the jersey go. Guimard knew that to defend it for the rest of the race would be too taxing for their Renault-Gitane-Campagnolo team.
As we have seen already in the 2018 edition, the so-called intermediate stages in the south and centre of Italy can be deceptively hard, and perfect for ambushes. Hinault took advantage of the terrain of the 14th stage to Roccaraso, a mountain town in the Abruzzo region. When Hinault launched a surprise attack only one rider could follow, Italian Wladimiro Panizza (GIS Gelati), and for his reward he got the maglia rosa.
Bernard Hinault, though, was now well-poised to execute his final strategy. He waited until stage 20, 221km from Cles to Sondrio, with the Stelvio 80km from the finish. Using a tactic that is familiar to us now, but was relatively new back then, Renault sent three riders up the road early in the stage. One of these was Jean-René Bernardeau, a strong climber. When Hinault attacked the group of favourites on the Stelvio, no one could follow, certainly not Pinazza, who was still in the leader’s jersey. Hinault climbed between massive walls of snow, bridged up to Bernardeau and the pair rode together into Sondrio, where Bernardeau was allowed to take the stage. Pinazzi and the other contenders finished over 4 minutes down, and the Giro was over.
Hinault’s first Giro d’Italia win is a prime example of how to ride with intellect, bravery, and a quality we may not always associate with successful bike riders – patience. One wonders who, in the 2018 race, is biding their time, watching and waiting?
In its 101 editions the Giro d’Italia has entertained, enthralled and excited. It has become synonymous with explosive racing through spectacular landscapes. And it has created many stories, encompassing every human emotion we can imagine. As the 2018 race spins its way towards Rome, Soigneur brings you seven stories from the race’s beautiful history.