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Chairman Bill's History of the Tour de France:
the 1980s

How a Newspaper Promotion Became the World's Greatest Sporting Event

Index: origins and early years | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s

This excerpt is from "The Story of the Tour de France", Volume 2. If you enjoy it we hope you will consider purchasing the book, either print or electronic. The Amazon link here will make either purchase easy.

1980.In the last couple of years there had been some important realignments in the team rosters. Hennie Kuiper, second in the 1977 Tour and fourth in 1979, changed teams a couple of times. He had been with the very powerful TI-Raleigh team but Kuiper and team boss Peter Post's relentless, driving management style weren't a good mix. He moved to the DAF Trucks team and then in 1979, he switched to Peugeot. Peugeot team boss De Muer's successful management of Thévenet made Kuiper think that De Muer could turn him into a Tour winner as well.

Meanwhile, Joop Zoetemelk left his old team of Miko and moved to TI-Raleigh. Zoetemelk now had the strongest team and perhaps the most driven and demanding director in Peter Post to help him win the Tour. This was the 33-year old Zoetemelk's tenth attempt to win. He had 4 second places starting with his first entry in 1970 when he was runner up to Merckx. Zoetemelk had also come in fourth twice and fifth once. Like Poulidor and Gimondi, Zoetemelk was an excellent racer who had to contend with giants. His racing started with Merckx and continued with Thévenet and went through the Hinault era. Even though the 1980 route wasn't as mountainous as other editions, Post was pleased. This might seem counter-intuitive given that Zoetemelk was an excellent climber. Post figured that with his team of mostly big, strong Dutchmen, they could protect Zoetemelk for more of the race and he would spend less time isolated in the high mountains. Post takes credit for motivating Zoetemelk, convincing him that his record of high Tour placings and prestigious race wins meant he could actually win the Tour de France.

Bernard Hinault was planning on winning 3 Tours in a row, making him, at the young age of 25, the equal of Louison Bobet. That spring he had already won the Giro with a solid margin of 5 minutes, 43 seconds over Vladimiro Panizza. In addition to 3 sequential Tour wins he was hoping to add the rare Giro-Tour double and join Coppi, Anquetil and Merckx. This would be fine company indeed.

The weather during the first half of the Tour was terrible: cold, wet and rainy. This would have consequences for the peloton in a few short days.

The 1980 Tour started in Frankfurt, Germany. For the first time in his short Tour career, Hinault won the Prologue. He kept the lead until stage 1b, a 45.8-kilometer team time trial. The Raleighs almost always did well in this discipline and they delivered the goods this day, putting their Gerrie Knetemann at the top of the standings. Knetemann didn't get a chance to get too comfortable in his Yellow Jersey because in stage 2, Rudy Pevenage led in the winning 3-man break that included Yvon Bertin and Pierre Bazzo. The trio had extracted a 10-minute gap from the pack, giving the lead to Bertin, one of Hinault's domestiques, second place to Pevenage with Pierre Bazzo in third place. The next day Bertin finished in a small group of stragglers, 15 minutes down. Pevenage was now the Yellow Jersey.

Hinault won stage 4, the first individual time trial. It wasn't enough for Yellow, given the big advantage the stage 2 breakaways still had, but he could surely smell it.

Hinault riding to victory in the stage 4 time trial.

The General Classification after the time trial stood thus:

1. Rudi Pevenage
2. Pierre Bazzo @ 1 minute 4 seconds
3. Bernard Hinault @ 5 minutes 41 seconds
4. Gerrie Knetemann @ 6 minutes 58 seconds
5. Henk Lubberding @ 7 minutes 6 seconds
6. Joop Zoetemelk @ 7 minutes 11 seconds

The next day was ridden over the tough pavé of Northern France in terrible weather. It was 250 kilometers of what Hinault called "those swinish cobbles". Hinault hated this kind of racing even though his power and personal drive allowed him to excel in terrible conditions. He and Hennie Kuiper finished 2 minutes ahead of the field, putting him a bit closer to the lead, 3½ minutes behind Pevenage.

As the peloton continued to ride hard in the cold, wet weather, tendinitis started to appear in the peloton. It was said that over 50 riders were riding the race in real pain. Cynics thought the eruption of peloton-wide connective-tissue problems indicative of widespread steroid use. High steroid intake weakens tendons because it suppresses the body's ability to repair damaged tissues.

The next day, Hinault himself started to show the first symptoms of tendon problems in his knee (this in no way specifically impugns Hinault, who never failed a drug test). Stage 7a was a 65-kilometer team time trial. Raleigh won again. Ominously, Hinault could not take his pulls in the Renault pace line.

From here on, Hinault spent a lot of the time riding at the back of the peloton talking with the Tour doctor or with his team director, Cyrille Guimard. The press wrote reams about Hinault's knee, all done, in the words of Les Woodland, with the gravity normally reserved for dying kings.

Hinault took the Yellow Jersey from Pevenage in the stage 11 time trial. It was clear that Hinault was not riding at his best. Zoetemelk won the stage with Hinault coming in fifth, a rare show of weakness for the Badger. The day's top finishers:

1. Joop Zoetemelk
2. Hennie Kuiper @ 46 seconds
3. Joaquim Agostinho @ 1 minute 9 seconds
4. Bert Oosterbosch @ 1 minute 12 seconds
5. Bernard Hinault @ 1 minute 39 seconds

That yielded the following General Classification:

1. Bernard Hinault
2. Joop Zoetemelk @ 21 seconds
3. Rudy Pevenage @ 1 minute 29 seconds
4. Hennie Kuiper @ 1 minute 31 seconds
5. Pierre Bazzo @ 2 minutes 40 seconds

Zoetemelk says that at the time he was not aware of the very dire state of Hinault's knee. Later he recalled, "My Tour started badly. I was never really well. But everything hinged on the second week, after Bordeaux, where I won the time trial. Bernard Hinault had an off-day. Normally he was much stronger than me, but he had knee problems. I didn't know he was going to abandon…I said to myself, if I won the time trial, why can I not win in the mountains? Now I had my chance!"

The next day, the Tour stood poised at the foot of the Pyrenees with Hinault leading Zoetemelk by 21 seconds. Hinault said he would never quit the Tour in Yellow.

Yet, the pain was too much even for Hinault. At 10:30 PM on the evening before stage 13 Guimard interrupted the Tour directors' dinner to inform them that Hinault had to withdraw from the Tour. Hinault and Guimard knew that the next day's menu of the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde would be far too much for a limping man who was struggling on the flat stages. It was ironic that this was Guimard's duty. Guimard had to be lifted from his bicycle in tears in the 1972 Tour while in second place and holding the Green Jersey.

The lead was now the possession of Joop Zoetemelk. The first and only big Pyrenean day made it clear that Zoetemelk was not going to change his basic tactics. He continued to race not to win; instead he was riding not to lose. This negative, conservative approach had cost him dearly in years past. Now that he was in the lead and probably the strongest man with the strongest team in the Tour to ride for him, the Anquetil approach made sense. He let Miko rider Raymond Martin scamper away for a solo win (Martin was first over the 3 final climbs), but made sure dangerman Kuiper was kept close at hand. He came out of stage 13 with a 1 minute, 10 second lead over Kuiper. Zoetemelk, like Merckx before when he had inherited the lead from Ocaña, refused to wear the Yellow Jersey the first day he was in the lead.

After stage 13, the General Classification:

1. Joop Zoetemelk
2. Hennie Kuiper @ 1 minute 10 seconds
3. Raymond Martin @ 4 minutes 37 seconds
4. Johan De Muynck @ 6 minutes 53 seconds
5. Pierre Bazzo @ 7 minutes 10 seconds

Three days later the Tour moved to the Alps. Zoetemelk chose not to display his sparkling climbing skills, letting Belgian non-contender Jos Deschoenmaecker win stage 16 to Pra-Loup. His concern wasn't winning stages, it was not losing the Tour. 3 kilometers from the top of the Pra-Loup climb one of Zoetemelk's domestiques, Johan Vandevelde, had his gears slip, causing him to swerve and crash Zoetemelk. Cut on both his thigh and arm, Zoetemelk remounted and continued racing up the mountain. He did more than limit the damage, distancing himself from Kuiper by another 16 seconds, increasing his lead to 1 minute, 34 seconds.

Stage 17, on the Galibier. Van Impe is in the center in the blue and white jersey. Kuiper is right behind him in the white Peugeot jersey and trailing in Yellow is Zoetemelk.

The next day, with the Galibier, Madeleine and Joux-Plane, Zoetemelk showed the effects of the previous day's crash, coming off early in the stage. He was protected and paced by his fellow Raleigh-riding Dutchmen who kept him in contention all day. Other riders who didn't have a chance for Yellow in Paris flew up the hills. Zoetemelk was content to finish thirteenth, but a half-minute ahead of Kuiper. By riding carefully and conservatively, he was slowly building his lead.

Stage 17: This is surely Johan de Muynck, who was first over the Galibier but finished 12th that day.

On the third Alpine day he again let non-contenders fly, but he showed that he had plenty of strength, finishing with Lucien van Impe. Kuiper was clearly weakening, finishing fourteenth, 2½ minutes behind Zoetemelk.

With the major climbing finished, Zoetemelk was in control:

1. Joop Zoetemelk
2. Raymond Martin @ 5 minutes 22 seconds
3. Hennie Kuiper @ 5 minutes 35 seconds
4. Johan De Muynck @ 8 minutes 27 seconds

That left the stage 20 individual time trial as the only serious obstacle to Zoetemelk's victory. Held in St. Etienne, the center of what was then a thriving French cycle industry, Zoetemelk won his second time trial of the 1980 Tour, giving him a near bullet-proof lead with only 2 stages to go. Kuiper's fourth place that day was good enough to put him back in second overall.

By the end of the Tour, Zoetemelk had hammered out a commanding lead, one for which there should be no apologies.

Final General Classification of the 1980 Tour de France:

1. Joop Zoetemelk (TI-Raleigh): 109 hours 19 minutes 14 seconds
2. Hennie Kuiper (Peugeot) @ 6 minutes 55 seconds
3. Raymond Martin (Miko-Mercier) @ 7 minutes 56 seconds
4. Johan De Muynck (Splendor) @ 12 minutes 24 seconds
5. Joaquim Agostinho (Puch) @ 15 minutes 37 seconds

Climbers' Competition:

1. Raymond Martin: 223 points
2. Ludo Loos: 162 points
3. Ludo Peeters: 147 points

Points Competition:

1. Rudy Pevenage: 194 points
2. Sean Kelly: 153 points
3. Ludo Peeters: 148 points

Much has been made of the fact the Zoetemelk was an excellent racer, but not a patron, a leader, an alpha male. He did not have the commanding authority of Merckx, Hinault, or even his own teammate, Jan Raas. In that moment of inattention in stage 16 when Vandevelde caused Zoetemelk to crash, Zoetemelk was very nice and friendly about the whole episode and told Vandevelde not to worry, that these things happen. Marguerite Lazzell speculated that had Vandevelde crashed Hinault, the same generous sentiments would not have been expressed. Even after Zoetemelk took over the Tour lead, teammates Knetemann and Raas were the team's leaders, giving the riders their directions.

Zoetemelk has suffered a lot of criticism over his victory, saying that it was a gift because of Hinault's departure. Zoetemelk said it just about the best, "Surely winning the Tour is a question of health and robustness? If Hinault does not have that health and robustness and I have, that makes me a valid winner."

Hinault agreed, "There is no need for him to say that he won because I abandoned. That would take away from his victory. My problems were of my own making. It is always the absent rider who is at fault. I was absent and he took my place." Ah, the supreme, generous confidence of a born winner.

The Zoetemelk of 1980, like the post-Blois-crash Merckx, was not a racer at the peak of his powers. Jean-Paul Ollivier thinks Zoetemelk was at his best in 1974, before his Midi Libre crash and meningitis. His 1980 win at age 33 is a tribute to both his determination to return to the highest levels of competitive cycling and his persistence. He rode the Tour a total of 14 times, finishing every time. He ended up winning the Dutch and World Championships, the Vuelta, Paris–Nice, the Tour (and was second 6 times), the Tour of Romandie, Amstel Gold and a host of other important races. He was one of the finest racers to have ever turned a pedal.

Hinault recovered from his tendinitis soon enough to regain his form and win the World Road Championships that fall.

1980 Tour de France results

1981. The Story of the 1981 Tour de France has been moved to the 1981 Tour results page.

1982. The Story of the 1982 Tour de France has been moved to the 1982 Tour results page.

1983. The Story of the 1983 Tour de France has been moved to the 1983 Tour results page.

1984. The Story of the 1984 Tour de France has been moved to the 1984 Tour results page.

1985. The Story of the 1985 Tour de France has been moved to the 1985 Tour results page.

1986. The Story of the 1986 Tour de France has been moved to the 1986 Tour results page.

1987. The Story of the 1987 Tour de France has been moved to the 1987 Tour results page.

1988. The Story of the 1988 Tour de France has been moved to the 1988 Tour results page.

1989. The Story of the 1989 Tour de France has been moved to the 1989 Tour results page.

 

<--the 1970s | the 1990s-->

Bibliography