“Cycling is an individual sport, practiced by teams.”
–Samuel Abt, quoted in “Slaying the Badger”
Netflix started showing a documentary to compliment the book “Slaying the Badger” by Richard Moore. Its subtitle is “Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault and the Greatest Tour de France”.
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. It was out at the library when I searched it. But, having actually gone to film school, I guess I could check it out on my TV.
Netflix may be known for some fancy Kevin Spacey show or being the best-known streaming service but in my house it’s known for weird, obscure crap that only dad likes. One of my favorite Netflix docs (as my kids will attest) is Hell on Wheels or, Höllentour about Germany’s Team Telekom in the 2003 TDF. I have made them sit through this too many times to count.
ESPN calls it this way: Before Lance Armstrong, there was Greg LeMond, who is now the first and only American to win the Tour de France. In this engrossing documentary, LeMond looks back at the pivotal 1986 Tour, and his increasingly vicious rivalry with friend, teammate, and mentor Bernard Hinault. The reigning Tour champion and brutal competitor known as “The Badger,” Hinault ‘promised’ to help LeMond to his first victory, in return for LeMond supporting him in the previous year. But in a sport that purports to reward teamwork, it’s really every man for himself.
This story shows us how, at this level there are no friends, only deals, politics and bullies. The naive LeMond moved to Europe to race when he was a teen. The film claims that LeMond rose with such promise in the States that Hinault wanted him on his team so he wouldn’t have him as an opponent. It all kind of backfires. Hilarity ensues.
The “Badger” is more like a 20/20 piece inspired by a true-account book of a great story. The archival footage is great. I had no idea John Tesh covered the Tour de France. I’m going out to buy his Music from the Tour de France, Vol. I right now!
As a true sicko, I watched it in my pain cave while spinning on my trainer. Just to suffer alongside the only American to ever (officially) win the Tour de France. As a part of ESPN Films 30 for 30 series director John Dower does a great job of balancing the information for both uninitiated cycling fan and with nuts like me. My French is a bit rusty but a few moments stand out as awesome.
For example, the moment when LeMond’s race director Paul Köchli is asked about the ability of cyclist to suffer and he says, “Bull. It’s a game.” Or, when Hinault remembers telling LeMond to go slow so he can “play games” with the other riders.
Hinault is kind of portrayed as the villain of the story. I’m not sure that’s fair. Maybe in LeMond’s case he is the protagonist but Hinault argues that he played the game by the rules in place. The main rule being, there were no rules.