Last week’s look at the history of Paris-Nice proved a popular read and the photo of Bernard Hinault taking a swing was a talking point in the comments.
Like all images it captures a moment on camera but it was only one instant in the day and there’s a whole story behind the picture. And video footage too.
The date is 12 March 1984 and the fifth stage of Paris-Nice takes the race from Miramas to La Seyne-sur-Mer. The day began with Scottish rider Robert Millar in the overall lead. But on the descent of the Col de l’Espigoulier Hinault attacks and a move of about 20 riders goes clear without Millar. As Hinault drives the break on he finds the road blocked by protesting workers and union staff from a nearby shipyard.
Hinault barely brakes and deliberately ploughs into the banner-waving crowd, falling to the ground. He gets up and finds the nearest protester and lashes out with his right fist. He connects but only with the shoulder of his target. The struggle continues and Hinault, in his cycling shoes, takes a wobble.
The police are there and finally things calm down. Hinault talked of quitting the race but decided to continue. The race was restarted with the breakaway given a head-start over the bunch equal to its lead prior to the incident. They reach the finish and Eddy Plankaert wins ahead of Sean Kelly and Hinault. Kelly takes the overall lead on his way to winning the race overall, one of his seven victories. You can see the video footage of the incident for yourself here.
The clip comes from the evening news on Antenne 2 and the day’s broadcast opens with the story from the race. “Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. A lively stage in the Paris-Nice race. We were waiting for sport and got a boxing match when the workers of the La Ciotat shipyard interrupted the fifth stage.”
Protesters in France have long tried to hijack bike races, a visible means to raise the profile of their campaign. The clip above makes reference to others doing the same. These days the police and organisers are more alert and often a bargain is agreed to let the protesters threaten a blockage only for the race to pass by with the cameras dwelling on the banner-waving activists.
There’s no information on the protesters. The shipyard in question underwent large scale restructuring in 1982 before shipbuilding stopped for good in 1988. The yards are still used for the repair and service of boats.
Hinault is a five time winner of the Tour de France. Today he works for Tour de France organisers ASO and is often spotted as a sort of master of ceremony on the podium where his combat skills have been deployed several times. He’s been what the French term a “Gentleman Farmer” raising cattle in his native Brittany but sold the farm a few years ago.
Sean Kelly went on to win the race several times and today has several roles including co-commentator on Eurosport’s English language service.
The Antenne 2 report from the race is by Lionel Chamoulaud who is a sports presenter for the same channel, now known as France 2.