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The Day We Met Bernard Hinault

With 100 days to go until the Tour de France Grand Départ 2014, we found ourselves suddenly involved in a global media event and riding up Cragg Vale with one of the best cyclists of all time.

It probably hasn't escaped your notice that the Tour de France Grand Départ is in Yorkshire this year. With stage 2 finishing just down the road in Sheffield, we're incredibly excited about it. But since we're not a global megabrand with huge budgets and friends in high places, we're not officially involved; we just want to enjoy it just like everyone else. So you can imagine our surprise when we received a call last Friday from a nice lady at Welcome to Yorkshire, asking if we could help with a media event. They needed some bikes - but surely they have bikes on tap - it's the Tour de France! No, what they really wanted was proper bikes from a Yorkshire bike company…

To be honest, we didn't really know what we were signing up to; it was all a bit hush-hush. We weren't to tell anyone before the event just in case word got out. But of course we need to get the right bikes so we wangled some details and in the process some names started to emerge… Thierry Gouvenou from ASO. Vincent Renault from Eurosport. Jacques Delise from French TV and then the clincher: Bernard Hinault. 

That's Bernard Hinault, five times Tour de France winner, 28 time stage winner. One of only five men to have won all of the grand tours, and the only man ever to have won each tour more than once. He stands at the very top of cycling's all-time greats with only Merckx, Anquetil and Indurain for company. And he needed to ride one of our bikes. This situation called for a Mondo.

So there we were, Paul and I, at 7am on Wednesday with a van full of bikes, the name of a random pub in Hebden Bridge and not much more to go on. It was going to be a very interesting day....

 

100 days until the Grand Depart 2014

It's 100 days until the 2014 Tour de France kicks off.

The Robin Hood Inn is a great cycling pub on Cragg Vale

We arrived at the Robin Hood Inn on Cragg Vale just after 9am and could tell it was a cycling pub straight away. Not many pubs have a bike rack next to the front door. Still, the place was empty and it wasn't immediately obvious what this place could possibly have to do with Bernard Hinault or the Tour de france. At this point we still had no idea what we'd got ourselves into, but the locals made us feel very welcome. With a cop of tea and a bacon butty in hand, we sat down to chat (Paul sampling beers with the landlord) and some details began to emerge.

We were made to feel very welcome by the locals

Even the staff weren't exactly sure what was going on but the log fires were burning and they'd put on a great spread. The yellow t-shirts were out in force and it was clear that the people of Hebden Brige were 100% behind the Tour. A couple of local cyclists turned up and it was great to see their enthusaism for Planet X. They were straight into the magazines we'd brought with us and chatting over the bikes in the van.  

  • There's an incredible tree sculpture in honour of the Tour's passing
  • Want a go at Cragg Vale? Get your time up on the board

How many pubs can you think of with the local TT times on a chalkboard in the doorway? Any time you fancy having a crack at Cragg Vale, drop into the Robin Hood when you're done. Do yourself a favour though - go on a day when there's a tailwind. It's not for the faint-hearted.

Sheffield is at the sharp end of stage 2

There was an awecome mural on the wall consisting of the stage two (York to Sheffield) map and a montage of some of the greatest cycling photos. Eddy Merckx was amidmost but Simpson, Hinault, Indurain, Lemond, Anquetil, Coppi, they were all there. 

The local school children are making fantastic little trophies

Even the local schoolkids were on board, with these fantastic souvenir trophies and pin badges. By now word was spreading that something was happening via Twitter, and more local cyclists were turning up. But they were hugely outnumbered by all the media people. We counted BBC, Sky, Eurosport, Al Jazeera, Associated Press amongst their number. I've never seen so many cameras or crew assembled in such a small place before. Bear in mind it was still 10am on a Wednesday morning in a pub in Hebden Bridge. 

It's the tour. You've gotta chalk up the road.

The locals couldn't resist the temptation to get stuck into the road with the chalk. Whilst dodging cars, of course. Cragg Vale is a fairly major A-road after all. But everyone was so excited it didn't seem to matter, and the atmosphere was really starting to build up.

Hebden Bridge is having a crack at the world bunting record - 10km

You'll probably know that Cragg Vale is a continuous climb of 10km with incredible scenery, particularly at the summit. There was to be a serious assault on the world bunting record with the aim being to line the entire climb with bunting made by hand. With 4km already done, they're well on the way but there was no time to loose. 

  • Everyone present was cycling mad so the Planet X magazine went down a treat
  • It's hard work policing these events. You need to keep your energy levels up.

By mid-morning the word was well and truly out. Apparently the local police are on Twitter and they turned out in force, with seven officers arriving at the same time. They wanted to know what was happening and whether or not it would be a big event. By then it was becoming clear that it was going to be massive - much bigger than we'd anticipated. But they must have got bored of securing the area and soon hit the buffet hard. They were just as excited as everyone else. 

The next time you see one of these cars, it'll be race day.

With the pub full of media types, police, local cyclists, people sewing bunting and us, it was time for the main event. The bright red Commissaire's car rolled up to ripples of applause from the assembled crowd and was followed by a convoy of fans they'd picked up along the way. Apparently Hinault had arrived in Yorkshire via the ferry in Hull and had been doing press events all morning. 

Thankfully Hinault was pretty chilled about the whole thing

Hinault has a bit of a reputation as a hard man of cycling, as the pictures on the wall attested. To us he was legendary as the original boss of the peloton. But in fact he was very generous with his time, full of bonhomie and happy to meet everyone. 

He even had a glint in his eye when signing this particular picture.

He's probably used to signing just about anything so he set about applying pen to walls, caps, t-shirts and cards. He was particularly amused by the image of him hurling punches at striking dock workers.

  • It might have been early, but the whisky was good
  • Interview time
  • Hinault got on alright with our helmets
  • Having dialled his position in, he was off up Cragg Vale like a badger
  • I was worried he might punch me at this point
  • Up at the top of Cragg Vale the crowds were out in force.

Once he'd done the rounds and had the obligatory photocall at the bar - he did seem to enjoy both his pint and a generous measure of whisky - it was down to the interviews. At least a dozen major TV and news outlets were present and everyone needed their 5 minutes. Not surprisingly the questions were all about Yorkshire and the route, of which he seemed to genuinely approve. And of course, who was going to win. The names of Wiggins, Froome and Cevendish came up more than anything else; I suppose most of the local press would naturally have an interest in the local heroes.

Once the media stuff was exhausted, it was time to get down to the real business of the day... riding bikes. After a quick change Hinault and the major journalists were ready to go, and the great man was presented with his Mondo. Immediately he produced a tape measure and within a minute he had his position dialled in. Clearly he'd done this many times before. On went the Planet X helmet and everyone was ready to go...

Nobody dared overtake Bernard Hinault on a Mondo

He might be nearly 60 years old but he's still got what it takes and he was up the top of Cragg Vale in no time at all. 

You know you're the main man when you have pro outriders

The original idea had been to gather a few local cyclists for a bit of a group ride up to the top, take make it look good for the cameras. But since the word had got out the event had grown beyond all proportions and there were as many as 100 riding up the hill in a group. Hinault was cruising on the Mondo, making it look easy. The police had to close the road off, the media were all scrapping for the best shots and everyone was just trying to keep up.  

  • This might just be the sexiest bike ever to hang on this wall
  • Paul was pretty pleased with the day
  • The Planet X freebies went down a treat
  • The press getting stuck into some proper work while we enjoyed the atmosphere

At the end of the day we all rolled back to the pub. The media big shots had reports to right and photos to process - their editors were getting impatient - so for them it was heads-down and on with it. We were just enjoying the atmosphere. Everyone was so fired up by the day, and we had a few musettes with Planet X goodies in to spread around.

You wouldn't mess with this man

By late afternoon most of the press had got what they needed and had hit the road. Hinault sat down to a proper interview with William Fotheringham and it was obvious they were talking big matters of grave importance to cycling...

You never know. We might sell him a bike yet...

The latest Planet X magazine seemed to go down quite well. Hinault's son has recently opened a bike shop of his own so we had a go at twisting his arm to stock Planet X. He definitely liked the Mondo, but we didn't let him keep it... 

 

All-in-all it was an incredible day. When you consider that we didn't really know what was about to happen it was truly a bizarre experience to find ourselves at the centre of such a massive media event. Hinault had that aura that all great sportspeople do and was undoubtedly the centre of attention. But the most powerful aspect of the day and the thing that I'll take away from it was the excitement and enthusiasm for the Tour. Here we had people from all walks of life from 4 years old to their late eighties, all of them so excited just to be there. There may still be 100 days to go until the Tour kicks off, but if this was anything to go by, the event is going to be massive, and a huge amount of fun. 

 

28 March 2014

Comments

  • joelle b
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    Nice to see le blaireau on a planet x bike.Great minds think alike.Check this bike's picture:http://www.troc-velo.com/velo-route-piste-bernard-hinault-piste-carbone-1-1-1060177.htmLooks just like....

  • Russell G
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    Great blog - I really enjoyed reading this and the Ray Eden article. Keep them coming!

  • andrew h
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    What a great story.Definitely a true legend. Andy

  • Kate F
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    Sounds fantastic - wish I'd been there! Thanks for sharing the photos. A pub worth visiting too.cheers, Tom

  • Dave H
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    Great stuff. Just wish I could have been (invited) there.