Slaying the Badger

Slaying the Badger ★★★½

The Tour de France is not everyone’s cup of tea. There’s a huge disconnect between participation and viewing, as the only difference between what the pros appear to do on TV, and what do on your own two-wheeled friend is go faster for longer. And speed often doesn't translate well onto TV, particularly with pace cars and chase cams.

Hence the sports documentary, which humanises the event and gives it an edge based on personal insight and historical perspective. Focusing on the battle during the mid-eighties between multiple Tour winner and French native Bernard Hinault (comically nicknamed ‘The Badger’ for his aggressiveness on the track) and ingénue US rider Greg LeMond, Slaying the Badger is a gripping story, even for cycling agnostics.

Greg was scooped-up by Hinault’s race team (La Vie Claire), helped an injured Hinault to victory in the 1984 tour and was promised reciprocation the following year. It didn't happen. What follows is a great insight into one of the most significant events in cycling history, as LeMond battles in the 1986 Tour against not only the rest of the pack, but his own team, and the man who promised him victory then reneged.

Not only do you witness the personal battle between the fiery, difficult Breton and the equitable, magnanimous Californian but you see a clash of cultures in action, the duplicity of a race team who essentially absorbed the talented LeMond in order to keep him as a second-stringer and remove his competitive potential, and the start of US dominance in the sport for over a decade.

There are a few rough edges to the presentation that could have been rounded-off: more time with Hinault and less with LeMond, for balance’s sake, more detail on how LeMond’s career dovetailed into his later work with Lance Armstrong, and a longer runtime and a harder journalistic push on the team coach (Paul Köchli) and owner (Bernard Tapie) would have been nice. Tapie is a particularly interesting figure: a disingenuous individual who has business interests in cycling component manufacturer ‘Look’ and later became president of Marseilles Football Club, later imprisoned as part of a match fixing scandal.

A fascinating doc that even people disinterested in the sport should enjoy, it does – however - leave you with a sense of sadness around the damage Armstrong did to the sport, erasing his legacy and harming the standing of cycling in general, and the reputation of the impressive US teams of the era to boot.

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