Cherry Picking Primes from Bernard Hinault

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Maybe the title to this post is a little misleading.  I wasn’t necessarily cherry picking primes exclusively from Bernard Hinault, I was winning a bunch of primes in a row because of Bernard Hinault.

I guess I should backtrack a bit.  Back in 1986, I was riding for Levis/Isuzu.  The structure of professional racing was a lot different back then.  Back then, the United States was thought of as a developing country and we needed “assistance”, through special rules, to catch up with Europe and get up to speed.  Even though Greg LeMond won the Tour that year, with Andy Hampsten, 4th.

Anyway, we had a relationship with La Vie Claire, which was LeMond and Hinault’s team, where when we rode outside of the United States, we’d ride for La Vie Claire, and here in the US, we’d ride for Levis.

So, Andy was riding the Tour for La Vie Claire in July and then in August, was racing for “our” team, Levis.

I’d travelled to Colombia to do the RCN with Hinault and La Vie Claire in May.  That wouldn’t have been my first choice of a race to do.  We got massacred, like totally massacred, other than Hinault did win the final 40 km time trial in Bogotá . You can see by our faces in the photo below, we weren’t happy campers.  And we were dropped there.

Anyway, jump ahead a couple months and we are at the Coor’s Classic in August.  Bernard, Greg and Andy had just finished the Tour a couple weeks earlier.  That was the Tour the 30/30,  Slaying the Badger was based upon.  Anyway, there was a lot of infighting within the La Vie Claire team, them trying to figure out who was going to win, Bernard or Greg.

Andy was a little shell-shocked, and beat, after the whole ordeal and was happy to be back racing with us.  The Coor’s race was the biggest race in the United States, maybe ever.  It started in California and made its way through Northern California, Nevada, then we transferred to Grand Junction Colorado and did another week in Colorado.  It was a super event.

It was the main focus for all US based teams, the biggest race of the season, by miles.  Our team usually stayed at high altitude, Mammoth Lakes, CA, Breckenridege, CO or somewhere like that to prepare for the event.

The race was a mixture of European type road racing, point to point, along with hard circuit races, plus criteriums.  The criteriums are what differentiated the race from European stage races.  Most the European pros had not really done too many criteriums before.  We, as domestic riders, had done 100’s.

Bernard did not like criteriums.  The officials and Bernard talked long and hard before almost each and every one.  He got unlucky because it did rain a couple times during the race, during criterium days, which made it much worse.

Anyway, we were doing a criterium in Reno, Nevada.  We’d already done a long road race in the morning, Tahoe to Reno, and we were doing the Reno Criterium, at dusk, through the streets of downtown.   It was super cool.  Well, I thought it was super cool, but Bernard wasn’t so thrilled.

Since we’d raced 4 hours already that day, everyone was ready to start out pretty casually.  I’d heard from very reliable sources, that there was going to be an enormous amount of cash money given out in primes during the race.  And it was going to start early, like instantly.

So, I lined up at the front, ready to race hard from the start.  Little did I know that Bernard Hinault planned to race hard from the start too.  Like super hard.  When the race started, everyone was casually tightening down their toestraps as Hinault motored from the gun.

I was on Hinault and he was going super hard, like time trial hard.  I looked back and the field was single file, with gaps opening everywhere.  I was very content right on Bernard’s wheel.

Coming across the line for lap one, they rang the bell.  I couldn’t tell you for how much, but good money, probably $250, maybe $500, I’m not sure.

Hinault never missed a beat and just kept pulling.  The final corner was maybe 250 meters from the line.  I looked back and there wasn’t anyone that could sprint anywhere near.  It was so easy to win the money, I hardly had to sprint.  I won the prime and just went back and resumed my position on Bernard’s wheel.  And he kept going.

This went on lap after lap.  They rang the bell nearly every lap and I won the prime and then dropped back and sat on for another lap.

Bernard didn’t seem to even notice.  He was more concerned about staying upright than winning money.

We, by that I mean, our team, and most US riders, were first concerned with results, but a close 2nd was winning money.  Prize money was good and a big proportion of our yearly income.  It wasn’t unusual to win 20-30 thousand dollars a year in prize money, depending on the schedule.

I couldn’t really tell you how much money I won the first 10 laps of the race.  It was in the 1000’s.  Roy Knickman, my teammate, eventually made his way up to the front too and he won a couple primes also.

Hinault went on and won the Coor’s Classic overall.  LeMond finished 2nd, so they flip-flopped their Tour results.  Phil Anderson, who was guest riding on our team, finished 3rd overall and completed the podium.  We won the team competition, which was nice.

There was so much money to be won at the Coor’s race, you sort of had to be really shitty or really unlucky not to take home some.  They’d sometime give a lapped rider a prime for just riding the next lap. I got a prime in Vail once for being the first rider from Kansas to cross the line.  I was the only rider from Kansas in the race.   It was always interesting.

Anyway, Bernard never said a word to me.  I did feel a little weird after winning the first couple primes,  probably because Hinault was a 5 time Tour de France winner, but got over it pretty quickly.  I could tell he was riding scared, while I was in my environment. .  We had different agendas, so it was all good.


This is a picture of the Reno Criterium, probably 6-8 laps in.  Hinault had pulled the whole time, close to 30 mph.  I'm looking back, with Roy on my wheel.  It was pretty fun.

This is a picture of the Reno Criterium, probably 6-8 laps in. Hinault had pulled the whole time, close to 30 mph. I’m looking back, with Roy on my wheel. It was pretty fun.

The remains of the La Vie Claire team riding to the start of a stage of the RCN. I'm behind Hinault.  Thurlow Rogers is behind him.

The remains of the La Vie Claire team riding to the start of a stage of the RCN. I’m behind Hinault. Thurlow Rogers is behind him and behind Thurlow is Greg Demgen.

I'm not sure what jersey Bernard is wearing here.  Obviously, we're climbing and not riding with the field.  I think this is the stage that climbed up to Bogota, the next to last day.

I’m not sure what jersey Bernard is wearing here. Obviously, we’re climbing and not riding with the field. I think this is the stage that climbed up to Bogota, the next to last day.



31 thoughts on “Cherry Picking Primes from Bernard Hinault

  1. Larry T.

    Great memories! I was there seeing my first-ever big-time pro race. I knew Hinault was winding up his career and wanted to see The Badger live. Got so excited by the whole thing I went to the World’s in Colorado too. That was the start of a love affair with the sport that survives today, though it gets repeatedly dented and dinged with all the doping news. Makes me think of a question for all the cynics out there who constantly say “It’s all crooked. Everybody cheats. Always have, always will.”
    If you believe this why do you bother with the sport? Sometimes I think it’s just too easy to say “Everyone dopes”. Kind of a built-in excuse if you lose…everyone who finished ahead of you must be doped, right? Nobody could actually just be better trained, smarter or just a product of some lucky genetics? While too many dope and more could have been done to stop it back-in-the-day, I have a tough time understanding why anyone who truly believes it’s impossible to win without doping pays any attention to this sport.

  2. sfb

    Great story Steve! You need to get those memories out there more often…its a great perspective for those of us that have only ever viewed the peloton from the outside.

  3. jeremiah

    Ah, another youngster who was not alive to bear witness to a 15-year-old Lemond lapping the fields on Cat 1’s and 2’s all by himself.

  4. jeremiah

    He was not French champion that year, and pros only wore their national colors during worlds.

  5. Gordo

    That was a great story, and nice that you made the cover of Bicisport. That blue jersey is probably for best foreigner/non South American at that race.

  6. Pepsi Frank

    Back when racing was more believable. I got to see the races in Vail and North Boulder park that year. Michael Aisner knew how to put on a show, we have some nice races today but nothing compares to the Coors Classics in ’85 and ’86.

  7. channel_zero

    This is a fact. Cannot upvote this enough.

    Lemond is the perfect example of what an amateur performance looks like when a clean rider wins a grand tour. They go home, or even back to their home country and just crush fields. All the domestics know the only racing left is for second.

    Unfortunately, oxygen vector doping has pretty much redefined the notion of talent in endurance sport. This is made triply worse, as stated in the CIRC report, by the federation hiding positives.

  8. Bolas Azules

    Your comment on how some guys back then were interested in results and some were interested in the prize money is spot on. There were guys that were like mercenaries that raced and raced and raced just to pile the money up. Racing anywhere they could find a race sometimes 4-5 times a week all season long – Road races, criteriums, track, points races, madisons…sprinting for every prime, horse trading places for primes, switching teams by the month, putting together combine teams mid-race and when it came to States, Nationals or Trials they would be no where to be found because there wasn’t a dime in it for them. Many of these riders are guys most have never heard of but they did well.

    Great story & keep them coming.

  9. Paul Kersey

    Much rather prefer these stories then your contradictory doping rants. Great story.

  10. jeremiah

    SO many people under the age of 40 just have NO idea about the reality of the situation then. There was “everyone”, then the guys who were “really good”, and then those who were “consistently good”, and then there was Greg Lemond.

  11. Steve Severner

    You’re talking about me, that was my career. The Badger was too nice, if Tilford pulled that wheel sucking thing on me or Graeme Miller….he would’ve spent that new found wealth on an insurance deductable

  12. Fausto

    Gregg was a Super Freak, no doubt about it. He was winning on his own long before USCF support and was not big on the program like the regional kids who were National Team for years as juniors because they had won some state championship. He was 1980 Olympic team, and not deep in the Frayseses group, he had beaten all the 84 Olympic hero’s already. Like Boyer, Neel, Howard, Connie, Beth H., etc, he was doing his own thing independent because his talent was already above his contemporaries. Did he use cortisone later during the Tour years, I can’t say, only he can and he doesn’t need me to defend him. Reason tells me he had the stuff to win classics, worlds and tours and he did, he proved it to the world as a junior.

  13. Nathan Leigh

    Is this the same Reno criterium that you crashed and landed in a casino? That is a story I would like to hear about.

  14. Jeff

    Steve, neither you nor Graeme Miller were ever close to good enough to not care who was sitting on your wheel.

  15. Steve Tilford Post author

    Jeff-Bernard and I got along fine. He didn’t speak shit for English and I no French, but like I said in the post, he was riding at the front as a tactic to stay safe. He didn’t give a shit about any prime $$$$. He was going to win the race overall. He wasn’t planning on sprinting for any primes, ever.

  16. John

    Maybe he was the 1º not columbian, back then you had a lot of “leader” jersey`s, whay more then the usual Points & Mountain classification´s.

  17. jeremiah

    Anyone remember Gagg (Gaggioli)? He’d sit literally in last place, sometimes with a huge gap off the back, coast into the corners while everyone else braked, and catch right back on, for laps and laps and laps. Then a big prime, and he’d somehow move up through the whole field and snag it. Then right back to last place again. He was a cash register.

    Anyone remember the disaster that happened when they did a “last place” prime at Whiskey Creek (Mammoth) in 1985? Two guys decided they wanted it, and did track stands trying to force the other one to go. Like a match sprint that just wouldn’t end. They eventually had to do a 1-lap race-off between the two.

  18. Charles Dostale

    Pinarellos with all Shimano Dura-Ace, the beginning of the end for Campagnolo. Look no-toe-clip pedals too, although it looks like you might be riding the Dyna-Drives. The start of the end for toe-clips too. I remember hearing from Michael about Phil Anderson riding for Levi’s, I did not believe it until I picked up the jerseys from the place that put the names on the back. That other funny Coor’s race thing where all the riders had to have their names on their jerseys just like American pro basketball or football.


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