On This Day in the Tour…….1978

7th July 1978

The 1978 edition of the Tour is perhaps best remembered as the race which announced the arrival of a certain Bernard Hinault on the world stage.  Hinault was already well respected by cycling fans and riders, yet his star rose infinitely higher the day he stood on the winners’ step on the podium in Paris in ’78, for the first of what would become five visits.

The 1978 Tour started without an overwhelming favourite – Merckx, Gimondi and Poulidor had retired after the 1977 season, and the winner of the 1976 Tour, Lucien Van Impe, was recovering from a broken collar bone.  Hinault, riding for Renault – Gitane – Campagnolo, was considered by some as the man most up for the task, although Joop Zoetemelk was also highly regarded, as was the Belgian National Champion Michel Pollentier.  Ultimately, Pollentier was thrown out of the race at the centre of a doping scandal after he won Stage 16 to Alpe d’huez, clinching the overall lead as well as the stage.  Pollentier was caught attempting to falsify a urine test by trying to pass off a clean sample as his own via a system of tubes worn under his jersey at doping control.

On the 7th July, almost ten days before Pollentier’s unceremonious removal from the Tour, the riders arrived in Saint Émilion, ready for an individual time trial to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande.  Of the men considered most likely to win the yellow jersey, Hinault was regarded as the best bet to perform well in time trials.  An all-rounder, Hinault not only excelled in TTs, but could maintain any advantage this skill provided him with by riding well in the mountains.  His all-round style even stretched as far as race types – The Badger won Grand Tours, Classics, World Championships…his talent was prodigious, and awarded him a deserved place in the history books.


Photo: Hinault wears Yellow 

On the 7th July 1978, Bernard Hinault secured the first of many victories at the Tour de France, storming to success in the individual time trial that made up Stage 8 in 1 hour 22’01, a full 34 seconds ahead of the second place rider, Joseph Bruyère.   Bruyère had done enough to secure the yellow jersey, but The Badger was busy laying the foundations  of an impressive first Tour win, and had risen to 4th place in the overall classification.

If the ’78 Tour marked Hinault’s arrival as French cycling’s hope for the future, his actions on the road throughout the race also saw him secure his role as the patron de peloton.  Although only 23 at the time, Hinault commanded respect amongst his peers.   Fed up of the increasingly unfair treatment of the riders by race organisers, a strike was held on 12th July.  The day had been divided into two ‘half’ stages, a 158km flat stage from Tarbes to Valence d’Agen, followed by a further 96km from Valence d’Agen to Toulouse.  The previous stage on the 11th July had seen the riders tackle the climb from Pau to the finish at Pla’ d’Adet, and the transfer had meant that no one in the peloton had managed to get sufficient sleep.  The configuration of the stages had seen riders finally getting into bed around midnight, before getting up at 5am to continue the race.

hinault 78

Photo: Hinault leads the peloton in protest, 12th July 1978

The peloton, lead by Hinault, staged a protest, riding at 12kph and arriving at the finish line an hour and a half behind the anticipated end time.  Within sight of the finishing straight, the riders dismounted and walked across the line, Hinault at the helm.  The Tour organisation was forced to annul the stage, and a legend was born as Hinault began writing himself into the history books, propelled by the blistering ITT of July 7th 1978.