You know the story of Thanksgiving, right? Is it the one they teach in nursery school, grade school, high school, or a “revisionist” one you might have half-overheard on NPR?
Likewise, you know Greg LeMond won the Tour in 1986. But how much do you know about how the victory was achieved? Some think there was treason on the road to Paris, some believe it was all to plan; just about everyone who watched the race had to wonder what went on behind the scenes. It was a compelling and confusing drama; some believe the greatest Tour ever.
Slaying the Badger goes back to the ancient days of 1986 and shows us how LeMond won his first Tour and vanquished his teammate, Bernard Hinault. The great thing is that all of the players from that era, save Laurent Fignon, are still alive and able to relive those days.
But in order to understand the Tour, the author, Richard Moore, feels you have to first know everyone involved and how they got to the start of the 1986 Tour. Which means we also get Hinault’s life story, LeMond’s life story, how their careers intertwined, who rode with them, who directed them, and how they all felt going into the race.
Since Hinault and LeMond were heroes when I started riding, it’s hard to be objective about them. At the same time, it feels that Moore has crafted a great story. He seems not only to have done thorough research, but interviewed everyone who even had a peripheral role in the story. We hear from Cyrille Guimard, who worked with Hinault in his early days and chose LeMond as a possible Hinault successor. We hear from teammates and rivals, particularly the Anglophones who were racing in Europe at the same time. Even Shelley Verses, a soigneur on the 7-Eleven team gets to share her perspective. The picture develops into one of complexity; all the major players and many of the minor ones come across as three-dimensional. We see their strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions. There is also an interesting kind of intimacy; so many of the interviewees knew one another so well that they seem to already know what the others have said about them.
Along the way, Moore gives us a great education about the sport in that era. A mystery, among the several, Moore unravels is what was the cause behind LeMond’s infamous attack to chase down American teammate Jock Boyer in the final kilometer at the 1982 World Championships. At the time, LeMond’s move was seen as mutiny. Today, thanks to Moore’s work, the world should know the issue was that the USPRO federation treated the Worlds as the de facto professional national championship, and as such the US team treated each other as rivals, something LeMond passionately opposed, but when he saw what it meant, he rode for himself.
When the book finally arrives at the prologue of the 1986 Tour, it’s almost a disappointment. So much great stuff getting there. The race itself is portrayed as draining as the rest of the book was entertaining. I didn’t want it to end. And, thanks to clever pacing, the afterword delivers a few more mind-blowing bombshells. It’s the best cycling book I’ve read in a long time; read it.