Hinault: Contador can give his rivals five minutes' advantage, still win the Tour
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hinault: Contador can give his rivals five minutes' advantage, still win the Tour

by Conal Andrews at 8:19 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 

Quintuple Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault is clearly convinced that Alberto Contador is the big favourite heading into this year’s Tour de France, saying that the Spaniard will be far ahead of his rivals in the race.

“In knowing the route of the [2010] Tour, we can’t ignore Contador as the favourite,” the Frenchman told the Swiss paper Le Matin, being convinced of his superiority in the mountains. “In the Pyrenees, he can stroll along. He can afford to arrive at the Alps five minutes behind.”

The 55 year old was involved in a minor war of words last June when he and Armstrong had a hostile exchange, via the media.

"I hope he will not be there," Hinault said at the time, when asked about the Texan’s planned participation in the 2009 Tour. "Is he afraid of France? Nobody forces him to come, he only has to stay at home! He cannot win the Tour. I hope that Contador gives him a beating."

Armstrong fired back in response, slating Hinault from his Twitter feed. "What a wanker. Five TdF wins doesn‘t buy you any common sense," he stated.

The Frenchman got his wish as regards the final result of the race, and says that the rivalry between the two former team-mates added some excitement. “This psychological warfare brings a little spice,” he said. However he doesn’t seem too impressed by the form shown thus far this year. “Armstrong was absent from Milan-San Remo and abandoned the Circuit de la Sarthe. At the Criterium International, he was in difficulty.

“He does what he wants,” he continued, talking about his return to the sport. “There are other people who have raced the Tour at almost 40 years old, including Poulidor, Zoetemelk – but they haven’t won seven times. If Lance Armstrong does not win, will he have left by the big door or the little door? I don’t see what it is that brings him back again. Maybe there are ulterior political motives. He’s an American."

Hinault’s reference to leaving by the big door is in relation to the opportunity top sportsmen have to choose the moment of their retirement and go out on top. He finished second in his final Tour de France, then quit the sport on his 32nd birthday – very young by today’s standards.

By the time Armstrong retired in 2005, he had joined and surpassed Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Hinault and Miguel Indurain as five-time winners of the race. In fact, the Texan was the only one of those multiple victors to have walked away unbeaten, something he took pride in. Returning to the sport and being vanquished by Contador [and Andy Schleck] last July ended that statistic, and it is reasonable to suggest that Armstrong’s push to take one final Tour victory is a reaction to that.

Hinault was asked if he regretted leaving when he did. “No,” he answered, clearly. “We should not regret what we have done. Returning to competition again never crossed my mind. Life is beautiful. I started having fun again. Sport should remain a game, even if it hurts sometimes.”

ProTour, earpieces, globalisation and doping:

Never reluctant to give his opinion on something, Hinault is one of the strongest characters in the business. He works now for ASO, dealing with high profile guests and helping co-ordinate the podium celebrations in the Tour. He remains closely involved with racing and sees cycling close-up.

He feels that the sport hasn’t changed much since his day, saying that clothing and diet are not hugely different. He’s unhappy with one development, though, saying that the use of race radios has negatively affected racing.

“Earpieces have meant that there are far fewer attacks, far fewer initiatives,” he said.

He’s similarly unimpressed with the ProTour concept, in that it guarantees teams entry to many races rather than forcing them to fight for the right to participate. He believes this leads to staleness, a lack of aggression, and is not healthy for the sport.

“Today being in the ProTour buys the right to take part in races,” he said. “This is not a question of results, but rather a story about money. Some teams are on a stroll. Cycling should be organised as football is, with a system of promotion and regulation. Tomorrow, perhaps we could see the Chinese or the Indians wanting to race. Without the ProTour, we would open the doors for them.

However he’s approving of the overall globalisation of the sport. “If I was racing today, I would start in Australia, I would go to Malaysia, I would go everywhere. Why train when you can race all season? It's much more exciting! If you are good, you don’t have any pressure.”

He also has a clear opinion about the fight against doping, saying that if he was a directeur sporitif, he would withhold the cash for a period of time. “If I hired a rider, I would pay him half of his salary at the end of his contract, and only If there were no problems.”

 

 

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