Bernard Hinault is arguably the best bicycle rider of his generation…and possibly of all time (with the exception perhaps of Eddy Merckx). Five times a Tour winner, winner of the Giro, the Vuelta, and just about all of the Classics (that matter), he was a fearsome competitor on the bike, earning him the nickname the “Badger”.
To get a glimpse of Hinault’s ferocity, one only has to watch the video of him on the podium in Nantes during the 2008 Tour de France (ironically, Gitane are manufactured in Machecoul, just on the outskirts of Nantes). Below is a link to a video showing him shoving a protester off the podium during the awards ceremony (link not affiliated with GitaneUSA.com): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXLSUpPS6So
Hinault started his professional career with Gitane. Recently, GitaneUSA forum member Nicolas Lelievre was fortunate enough to meet Hinault and spend some time chatting with him about Gitane, his pro career, and related topics. Included below is the translated interview.
Special thanks to Nicolas for sharing this with us, and of course to Bernard Hinault!
Q :Many fans wonder what was your contribution to the development of new material for Gitane bikes and how it was done ?
A:It was mainly for try-outs, the whole research & development was done by the “Régie Renault” which had a wind tunnel and gave us an advantage. Most of the time, we just confirmed the data by riding the bike. It was done on a track.
The track was supposed to give a “neutral” environment?
Especially for the wind. We’d go for 3 laps with one bike, then 3 laps with another while maintaining the same heart rate & BPM and comparing times afterwards.
The heart rate was your benchmark?
Yes. The bikes were configured the same way, you had to maintain your position and do your 3 laps. Sometimes 5 times in a row.
I know you have not used them in a race but what about deltas?
Not these but the first “profil” we tried.
The design was new, were you surprised at first?
When you want to search & win, which I always did, and someone tells you that thing is going to make you go faster, there’s no point in arguing. The rider is here to test and bring his knowledge.
Were you frustrated not to have these when you started “La Vie Claire”?
Well, I used this experience a little…the frames that were made were also inspired by what I had seen at Gitane.
Gitane bikes were always factory made or handcrafted outside the factory, then painted?
In fact, from what I’ve seen, they were handcrafted…in the factory. The best workers were assigned to the professional bikes.
So there was a special treatment for these?
Yes, this is a bit like a luxurious car. Depending on the rider, the frame had to be shorter here, longer there…it had to be top notch. And the material that was used was not available for retail. We’ve had Reynolds 753, 531…3/10, 5/10…not many people could use that.
We are intrigued by a particular bike that you used in 1983 for the spring classics. Instead of being blue, it was chrome coloured with a little badger on the front. You won the Fleche Wallonne with this bike. Do you remember it?
Not at all (laughs)…No…anyway, that was a Gitane. It could have been a prototype?
Well, you won with it so it was probably a good bike (laughs)…
Yes, I think that must be it. It was probably a prototype with new material…I don’t know why it came out like this.
Regarding Campagnolo groups, did you prefer Super Record or C-Record ?
I don’t remember the specifics…when you get the best possible, that’s all you’re interested in. Whatever their name was, we didn’t care. The important thing was to get something good, working and having no trouble.
Let’s talk about Look. In December, we talked about the fact that the first Hinault frames with La Vie Claire were in fact Motobécane and then Look came with their carbon frames. What about the aluminium Look frames? Who manufactured them?
I don’t think we ever got aluminium frames.
During the 1986 Tour de France, 2 types of frames were used, the black carbon ones and the other ones, white with La Vie Claire colors…
The grey Hinault frames were not aluminium, it was Reynolds or Colombus…whatever the Look frames were, it was not aluminium. It was steel. Either Colombus or Reynolds.
Ok. There is a question about gears. What was the typical gearing used in an ITT ?
Typically it was 54x12 or sometimes 53, maybe 55 once I think…then again it largely depended on the profile of the race, it means nothing without it. If the wind comes from the tail you can try an extra teeth, if it’s up front you can go down to 53x17 instead of 12…It means nothing…
I think the question is also to see if things have changed a lot since then…
I don’t think they get much bigger than we did…
Same question for the mountains?
I think the smallest I’ve used is 41x25 or 42x25.
Still, you have to be able to use this!
Oh, but it’s all good!
I imagine, at this kind of levels (laughs)…Ok. If the UCI had not interfered, where would we be now, in terms of technology ?
Fairings all over the bike…that’s where it was going. Or else you could organise 2 leagues, one with the UCI regulations and the other totally free.