It’s been a big year for cycling docu-movies, and the recently released Slaying the Badger is the latest, and somewhat belated account of Greg LeMond’s epic battle with Bernard Hinault in the 1986 Tour de France.
Movie rights were acquired by ESPN from the publishers (VeloPress) of Richard Moore’s highly successful and detailed 2012 book of the same name, although things naturally do pan out a little differently when it comes to transferring the project to film.
Greg LeMond was one of the very first American riders to take on and beat the Europeans at their own game of bike racing, and due to the “fall of Lance Armstrong” he has recently (and very rightly so) been “publicly re-instated” as the most successful American bike racer of all time.
LeMond’s successful early junior and amateur exploits earned him a prized slot alongside the “patron of the 1980’s peloton” Bernard Hinault (otherwise known as The Badger), a rider who was perhaps the last of the true patrons of the pro peloton – and one who could, and would win just about anything he chose to, and a rider you certainly would not want to cross.
On signing up as Hinault’s apprentice the young American, perhaps slightly niavely believed that that Hinault and the old guard of the then French dominated peloton would gracefully hand over his slightly dented crown to the young pretender, a situation which was not going to happen without a struggle. Hinault played the smart card of keeping is enemies close, in LeMond’s case close meant as a teammate first, and as Tour winner in waiting only when there was no other option.
Throughout the movie narrators and interviewers flip between LeMond himself, his family, former teammates & managers, media, and also Hinault, all offering personal insights to their side of what seemed to be a double crossing in 1986, when Hinault was perceived to have promised to have handed over team leadership in the Tour to LeMond, who had helped him to his 5th Tour victory in the previous year.
It didn’t quite work out that way though, and the 1986 Tour did turn into an epic spat between the two teammates, with the Frenchman attacking the field, taking yellow, and then ultimately cracking.
Few would doubt that Hinault was hedging his hopes and bets, those being that he would be given a justifiable excuse to take a record braking 6th Tour victory. His stance, naturally enough, has always been that he was simply making LeMond earn his spurs as a better rider by forcing him to fight for the victory, and perhaps he did actually do that in a strange way.
There are some interesting opinions offered from both sides, and some telling reactions from their former coach and team manager Paul Koechi.
As we’ve seen so many times in cycling, and in other sports, it is only natural that a long established old champ carries a lot of shout, and has a lot of hard earned support too, which was not simply going to be granted to a fresh outsider.
It’s billed as a legendary sporting grapple by ESPN, which could be slightly over hyping things. Sure enough it was a tough battle, and it’s a great story, as was the whole and much longer LeMond story, and it does slightly whiff of other memorable cycling clashes, such as Froome & Wiggins, Roche & VIssentini.
You’ll see some great retro footage throughout, and get some nice peeps into LeMond’s early encounters with Lance Armstrong, as well as hearing from people who you’ve probably only really read about in print in the past, which all clock up to make it well worth watching.
If however you’re familiar with the sport and the story you may find yourself having to hang with the “sports bubba” approach taken in places. It was clearly made with a more general audience in mind, although even well seasoned aficionados will enjoy a screening.