Tour de France 2014 – coming soon to a road near me

In another very satisfying case of things coming full circle on followthehumming, my diary entry for 4th June, 1986 describes the outline of that year’s Tour de France and the prospect of Frenchman Bernard Hinault taking on American team mate Greg LeMond. Here we are 28 years later, and – despite living in Yorkshire – I somehow find myself living on the route of the first stage of this year’s Tour.

In ’86, both Hinault and LeMond rode for the same team – La Vie Claire. Hinault had won the race the previous year and had publicly promised to support the Californian this time around. The events that unfolded during the course of the 23 stages that followed provided one of the Tour’s most unforgettable races.

Despite his promise, the Frenchman appeared torn between supporting LeMond and racing away to claim his own record sixth Yellow Jersey. In an unforgettable stage ending in L’Alpe D’Huez, Hinault broke away in a self-destructive solo attack, only to be reeled in by LeMond before the end. The two riders crossed the finishing line together hand-in-hand and wreathed in smiles. It seemed as if peace had broken out and LeMond’s title was all but sealed – only for his team mate to declare later that night that the race was not yet over.

In the end, LeMond won the General Classification and the first of his three Tour titles, while Hinault took second place and the polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountains. Their fascinating story is told in full in Richard Moore’s excellent book, Slaying the Badger.

With about a month to go until this year’s Tour gets under way, the difficulties of having two potential winners in the same team are featuring once again, with current Yellow Jersey holder Chris Froome declaring that he would prefer Australian Richie Porte as his Team Sky number two, instead of 2012 winner Bradley Wiggins.

So much has changed since the era of LeMond and Hinault that it’s reassuring to know there are events like the Tour which still have a timeless quality about them. I’ve written before about the way sport can provide a sense of continuity in a world desperately clinging to the coat tails of Moore’s Law – and cycling’s greatest race certainly fits that bill.

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