Professional cyclist Bernard Hinault was nicknamed "The Badger" because he fought aggressively when cornered. He won the gruelling Tour de France five times and achieved 28 stage victories, second only to the greats Eddy Merckx and Lance Armstrong. Like Merckx, Hinault rode to win, and he took pleasure in winning races he didn't have to, just for the taste of victory.
Today, at age 50, Hinault is a fixture at the Tour, and waits at the podium to zip the winners of the classifications into their special jerseys: yellow for the overall leader, green for the leader of the points (sprint) competition, polka-dot for the King of the Mountains, and white for the best young rider. They must be thrilled, for any cyclist would think it an honour to shake hands with this great champion.
Hinault was born in 1954 in Brittany, France, in the village of Yffignac. His family were farmers, as Hinault is today. He married young and became a father even before he began racing; he started as an amateur in 1971 and turned professional in 1975. From the first he was an aggressive rider, attacking established greats like Merckx and Luis Ocana, to their anger but also admiration. He really got attention in 1977, when he won Gent-Wevelgem and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the space of four days. That same year he also won the Grand Prix des Nations and the Dauphiné Libéré, in spite of having misjudged a corner on one of the fearsome Alps and plunged over the side of the ravine, only to scramble back up and remount his bike. Thus he proved himself a fighter and a winner, and earned the admiration of the French public, though he claims he wasn't interested in public recognition: he just wanted to win.
In 1978 Hinault won the epic Vuelta a España, then his first Tour de France, and from there he seemed virtually unstoppable. He took the Tour again in 1979, as well as Flèche Wallonne, the Dauphiné, and the Tour of Lombardy. In 1980 he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though he froze two of his fingers on a crazy solo break in the snow and never regained feeling in them. That year he also won the Giro d'Italia as well as the Tour of Romandy and three stages in the Tour de France, only to abandon with the leader's yellow jersey on his back due to knee problems. He won the Tour again in 1981, as well as Paris-Roubaix - which he hated because of the dreaded cobbles that jar the riders and kick up dust and flints, but felt he had to win as a champion. In 1982 he won the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, one of only seven riders to have achieved this feat in one year.
In 1983 he won the Vuelta and Flèche Wallonne but hurt his knee; he decided to have surgery and missed the Tour. Coming back in 1984 he was beaten at the Tour by Laurent Fignon, who was strong and rode a tactical race, refusing to rise to Hinault's reckless attacks; Hinault came in second, ten minutes behind Fignon. But the following year Hinault repeated his Tour-Giro double; he sustained a broken nose and two black eyes from a crash while sprinting to the finish line, but fought on to victory, assisted by his American teammate Greg LeMond, who he promised to help win the Tour next year. In the event, the two would have angry words and battle it out to the end, LeMond finishing first and Hinault having to settle for second.
Then he retired, seemingly at the height of his powers. Though some were disappointed and felt he should have ridden a few more years while he still had power in his legs, Hinault was already looking to a new life. He had bought a farm and some cows in 1983 while recovering from knee surgery, and today Hinault runs a dairy farm with his wife Martine; they have two adult children.