A piece of table in a Paris without air. Bernard Hinault taking care to remove the white tablecloth slightly stained by the Saint-Émilion who had just raised his voice for two hours during a luncheon in honor of the great reporter and writer Philippe Brunel for his Jacques-Goddet Prize. The chairs scraped the floor. The Badger sat down. Eddie Merckx too. Ten Tour de France in elegant shirts and jackets. Ten Tour de France while biting on one side, on the other in acumen. It was off for a thirty minute conversation, Bernard and Eddy, the apprentice and the master, the Breton who looked at his watch at the end because he still had a long way to go to get to his farm in Calorguen. Proof of the friendship that binds them, the “Badger” had driven eight hours that day to find the “Cannibal”.
What are the first words that come to your mind to evoke the other?
Bernard Hinault: For me, the wanker that I was, Eddy is my idol first and foremost. The person I looked up to. There were two, he and Jacques Anquetil. I loved the win by them. Jacques was more dilettante, he sometimes waited to race. Eddy wanted to win everything. I wanted to be in the middle, that suited me well… If you run with it afterwards, that is of course special. When you first meet him, you already have such eyes (he makes big gestures with his hands)… You tell yourself it’s not possible. “I can’t be there with my idol! And finally yes. Eddy will forever remain the number 1 in cycling, no one will be able to beat him, win as much as he. On all fronts. He has practiced everything, he is the super athlete.
Eddie Merckx: After me, Bernard is the best runner in history. I put it in front of Anquetil, Bobet, Coppi and everyone else. When you see his prize list, especially the way he won his flights, that says it all… I remember his victory over Gent-Wevelgem in 1977. Everyone in Belgium wonders “Who is it? But I already knew him. The first time we really got together was just before that, at a criterium in Brittany near Camors. He sent wind…
At Paris-Nice 1975, Bernard Hinault had these words: “Merckx is like me, he has two arms, two legs”…
BRA: But yes, it was true! I remember. Before the race I am told that there is Merckx, that he is there, etc. Then I answer, without thinking, that he is like me, that he has two arms, two legs, a head and that he is using it ! Well, I attacked a bit, everyone wondered where I came from… But hey, what was he there…
EM: Bernard was truly an exceptional champion. I find that when we talk about athletes, their track records, we don’t talk enough about Bernard for his achievements as a cyclist. He really was a lot better than everyone else.
When did you realize that Bernard Hinault was your successor?
EM: I understood very quickly. In 1975, 1976. I saw the strength he had. He also had that view in the race.
Did you recognize yourself in him?
EM: Yes, he was a winner. A fighter. What was going on.
There’s an episode about the Dauphiné, in 1977, where you helped him win the General when he was in trouble at one point…
EM: I remember well. Me, I was already on the downward slope of my career, and he had fallen the day before, I respected him, and I helped him, yes …
BRA: He let me win, clearly. He was in trouble, everyone had abandoned him, and I was the younger one. He wanted to push me forward.
EM: He let me win at Camors, him (laughs)†
BRA: When your idol tells you “Hold on, hang on, it’s not over yet!” †, you fight like a ragpicker. I picked up in the steps. But he was waiting for me… And if Merckx tells you that, you have to hold on. If it hadn’t been for him, I don’t think I would have won. These are moments I cannot forget.
Bernard Hinault: “I discovered Eddy through Ouest-France because my parents had the newspaper”
And there was Camor’s criterion, shortly after…
BRA: Yes, this is our first real meeting. The track went up. We both got to the sprint, and he won!
EM: He braked, huh (laughs)†
BRA: Well, you can’t beat your master can you (laughs)†
Merckx was your idol back then. But how did you find out?
BRA: I discovered it a bit by West Francebecause my parents had the newspaper. And then thanks to TV. You saw his exploits, the summaries, the way. I didn’t know at the time that I would become a runner, but I was already amazed.
In building the champion you have become, have you been inspired by Eddy Merckx?
BRA: I do not think so. It’s really hard to explain, but you don’t become a champion. You either have it in you or you don’t. It’s innate. It cannot be made.
EM: Fully !
BRA: Look today. We hear runners say they go to races to make the top 10. Me, that makes me sad. The man does not come to win, so he will never win! Me, I said I came to do the race, and then we saw the result.
EM: You come to win. Point. Me, when I started a race, it was not to train, to compete… Many times I said I was going to do a “fairground”, but once the race started it was stronger than me, and I tried to to go…