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February 2006
   
 

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed
Historian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Top 25 All Time Tours #9

1978: The Cannibal Retires, the Badger Shines

CR Timeline 1978 [also see Special Notes below]

The celebrated 75th Anniversary Edition of the Tour de France saw a substantial changing of the guard. Eddy “the Cannibal” Merckx, Luis Ocana and Raymond Poulidor had all retired; defending champion Bernard Thevenet struggled and abandoned in the Alps; and Lucien Van Impe had not yet recovered from a broken collarbone. The 1978 Tour was wide open. Renault team director Cyrille Guimard introduced his newest star, third year professional Bernard “the Badger” Hinault who had just won the Vuelta a Espana. Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk posed the main obstacle to Hinault's hopes. The pre-race media hype raised the question: “Can the climber beat the time trialer?”

The excitement began with the 59 km individual time trial (ITT) on stage 8. Talented time trialer Bernard Hinault excelled at his specialty and dominated the “race against the clock.” Round one of the Hinault/Zoetemelk battle went to the Badger . The 4 th place Hinault led Zoetemelk by 39 seconds.

Three stages later the Tour entered the “Circle of Death” (the hardest day in the Pyrenees) on stage 11 from Pau to St. Lary Soulan/ Pla d'Adet. The leaders were together over the Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aspin, but at the base of the finishing climb of the Pla d'Adet, Michel Pollentier and Zoetemelk broke away. Mariano Martinez and Hinault answered the attack and joined the breakaway. Martinez increased the tempo and moves ahead for the stage win. Dutch climber Zoetemelk faded and lost 14 valuable seconds to Hinault. The race for the overall classification was tightening; Joseph Bruyere (Bel) kept the Maillot Jaune 1'05” ahead of Hinault. The 2 nd place Hinault led 3 rd place Zoetemelk by 53 seconds as the Tour headed across France toward the Alps .

Special Note 1: Stage 12 was split into two sections. Section one was an early morning race from Tarbes to Valence d' Agen. The tired riders, after the late arrival to hotels the previous night, struggled to make the transfer. They started complaining about extremely harsh conditions. From the early days of the Tour race director Henri Desgranges demanded his Tour be known as one of the toughest physical endurance tests. Desgranges' ideal Tour would be so hard that only one rider would survive the ordeal . Jacques Goddet, who succeeded Desgranges, tempered this philosophy slightly, but told riders “it's necessary to keep an inhuman side to the Tour. Excess is necessary.”

In Tarbes for stage 12a, the riders considered the early morning start to be unreasonable. At the start line of the stage, the peloton revolted. The entire group leisurely rode over the first 157 kilometers of the stage at 20 km/h (12.5 miles/hour). Upon reaching the final kilometer in Valence d'Agen, the riders dismounted and walked to the finish line. With the race schedule demolished Tour officials were forced to cancel the stage.

The Mayor of Valence d'Agen, who invested a large amount of money to host the Tour stage finish, was irate. The protesting riders came into his city so far behind schedule that the planned festival for the riders was wasted because the next section of the stage was ready to start. The sympathetic riders did make amends by promising to hold a post-Tour criterium in Valence d'Agen.

The second section of stage 12 was run as normal and was raced hard. Sprinter Jacques Esclassan beat Jan Raas and Freddy Maertens for the stage win.

The Tour scheduled an individual time trial (ITT) on stage 14 that finished at the top of the fabled climb of the Puy de Dome (14 km, average 7.5%, max. 12.5%). Joop Zoetemelk needed a huge effort on this ITT climb to gain time in the overall classification. On the slope of the climb, the Dutch star hammered the pace and gained the stage win. He beat overall race leader Bruyere by 55 seconds and beat main challenger Hinault by 1'40”. Zoetemelk, with the time gain, jumped over Hinault into second place in the overall classification. He now led Hinault by 47 seconds.

Drama in the Alps occurred on the stage 16 mountaintop finish at Alpe d'Huez. Talented climber Michel Pollentier (Bel) attacked the race leader on the climb to Chamrousse. A tired Bruyere was feeling the effects of the ITT up the Puy de Dome two stages earlier and could not match the pace of the Belgian. Pollentier's escape continued and at the foot of Alpe d'Huez, he had a 2-minute lead on the chase pack. The elite chase group of Zoetemelk, Hinault, and Kuiper closed the time gap to 50 seconds at 4 km to go. Hinault attacked and was followed by Kuiper. Zoetemelk fell off the aggressive pace and lost time. Pollentier was not caught and won the stage by 37 seconds over Kuiper. Hinault finished third, 45 seconds behind and Zoetemelk a further 1'18” behind the stage winner. Jubilantly, Pollentier put on the Maillot Jaune at the awards ceremony, but the post race drama started at doping control (drug testing).

Pollentier was supposed to report directly to doping control after the awards ceremony. He did not present himself immediately, preferring to quickly go to his hotel for a rigged fake urine sample. Pollentier arrived at doping control with a small rubber bladder under his arm. When the device malfunctioned, the race doctor administering the urine-test discovered the fraud. Michel Pollentier was immediately dismissed from the Tour and handed a two-month suspension. A surprised Joop Zoetemelk was awarded the race lead.

For the next three stages, Zoetemelk and Hinault matched each other pedal stroke for pedal stroke. The final selection of the year's champion would happen during the 72 km individual time trial (ITT) from Metz to Nancy . The Badger, trailing Zoetemelk by 14 seconds, stepped to the starting line ready for the challenge. He set a pace no one could follow. Hinault beat the race leader, Zoetemelk by 4'10” and put on the Maillot Jaune for the first time. He cruised into Paris for a 3'56” Tour de France victory.

Bernard “the Badger” Hinault's victory captured the interest of all France . French supporters on the Champs Elysees celebrated the birth of a new grand Tour de France champion.

TdF 1978 Recap

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Prologue LEIDEN , 5.2 km ITT

Jan Raas (Ned)

Jan Raas (Ned)

Stage 1a LEIDEN-ST WILLEBRORD, 135 km

Jan Raas (Ned)

Jan Raas (Ned)

Stage 1b ST WILLEBRORD-BRUXELLES (Bel), 100 km

Walter Planckaert (Bel)

Jan Raas (Ned)

Stage 2 BRUXELLES (Bel)-ST AMAND LES EAUX, 199 km

Jacques Esclassan (Fra)

Jan Raas (Ned)

Stage 3 ST AMAND LES EAUX-ST GERMAIN EN LAYE, 243 km

Klaus-Peter Thaler (Ger)

Jacques Bossis (Fra)

Stage 5 CAEN-MAZE MONTGEOFFROY, 244 km

Freddy Maertens (Bel)

Klaus-Peter Thaler (Ger)

Stage 6 MAZE MONTGEOFFROY-POITIERS, 166 km

Sean Kelly (Ire)

Gerrie Knetemann (Ned)

Stage 7 POITIERS-BORDEAUX, 242 km

Freddy Maertens (Bel)

Gerrie Knetemann (Ned)

Stage 8 ST EMILION-STE FOYE LA GRANDE, 59 km ITT

Bernard Hinault (Fra)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 9 BORDEAUX-BIARRITZ, 233 km

Lasa Miguel-Maria (Esp)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 10 BIARRITZ-PAU, 192 km

Henk Lubberding (Ned)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 11 PAU-ST LARY SOULAN, 161 km

Mariano Martinez (Fra)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 12b VALENCE D'AGEN-TOULOUSE, 96 km

Jacques Esclassan (Fra)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 13 FIGEAC-SUPER BESSE, 221 km

Paul Wellens (Bel)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 14 BESSE EN CHANDESSE-PUY DE DOME, 52 km ITT

Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 15 ST DIER D'AUVERGNE-ST ETIENNE, 196 km

Bernard Hinault (Fra)

Joseph Bruyere (Bel)

Stage 16 ST ETIENNE-L'ALPE D'HUEZ, 240 km

Hennie Kuiper (Ned)

Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)

Stage 17 GRENOBLE-MORZINE, 225 km

Christian Seznec (Fra)

Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)

Stage 18 MORZINE-LAUSANNE (Sui), 138 km

Gerrie Knetemann (Ned)

Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)

Stage 19 LAUSANNE (Sui)- BELFORT , 181 km

Marc Demeyer (Bel)

Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)

Stage 20 METZ-NANCY, 72 km ITT

Bernard Hinault (Fra)

Bernard Hinault (Fra)

Stage 21 EPERNAY-SENLIS, 207 km

Jan Raas (Ned)

Bernard Hinault (Fra)

Stage 22 ST GERMAIN EN LAYE-PARIS/Champs Elysees, 161 km

Gerrie Knetemann (Ned)

Bernard Hinault (Fra)


Starters: 110

Finishers: 78

Distance: 3,921 km

Average: 34.929 km/h

 

 

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