LeMond, Hinault and 20 great stages from the Tour de France. An interview with author Richard Moore.

Photo: Robin Moore

Photo: Robin Moore

Richard Moore is the author of Slaying The Badger, In Search Of Robert Millar and several other books about cycling. He also wrote The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the Seoul Olympic 100m Final.

His latest offering is titled Étape, a book that closely details key stages in Tour de France history. More than a simple play-by-play account of said stages, Moore's book details the intricate backdrops against which these stages played out, giving them greater meaning through context. 

This July, ESPN will air a 30 For 30 documentary based on your book Slaying The Badger. How did the documentary come about, and what was your involvement in it?

I met John Dower at the 2012 Tour. He was directing a film about Bradley Wiggins (A Year In Yellow) and we got to talking about Slaying the Badger, which he’d just read. We talked about it more as that Tour progressed because there were so many parallels between what happened in 1986 and what seemed to be happening in 2012.

I had met with some people before the Tour who were interested in turning it into a film, which I told John, and he said he might be interested. We met after the Tour, he took an option on the book, and voila! He proposed it to ESPN and they went for it. I think they were pleased to be offered a cycling film that wasn’t about Lance Armstrong. 

Once John and his team started making it I didn’t have any involvement beyond the odd conversation with John and helping with contacts for some of the people who feature. 

Now that you've had a chance to see the finished film, did you learn anything new from it that even surprised you after all the research you did for the book?

The people interviewed for the book said much the same things to John. But there is one bit of footage I hadn’t seen, which is great. It’s from after a stage in the Pyrenees in 1985, when LeMond was ordered to wait for Hinault: an exchange between LeMond and Paul Koechli, when LeMond loses his temper -- I had seen LeMond scared and vulnerable before, but never really angry. He is here. 

The film is brilliant, I love it. It really brings out the personalities of the two main protagonists -- as well as featuring great interviews with Sam Abt, Bob LeMond, Paul Koechli, Andy Hampsten and Shelley Verses, among others -- and some of the footage is incredible. As an American-funded film the main focus is on LeMond, but Hinault is, as always, utterly compelling. 

Kathy and Greg LeMond have been very complimentary of your book, saying that your assessment of the events and the personalities behind them was spot on. How do you approach writing a book about a difficult subject such as LeMond/Hinault, when different sides retain clashing views on the matter? Do you actively try to keep from taking sides?

Yes, I don’t want to impose my own views too much because I don’t think the reader wants or needs that -- when I’m reading something I prefer to be left (and trusted) to make up my own mind. Plus, there are rarely simple right and wrong versions of history, or any black or white interpretation of what went on. I suppose I approached the story at the outset thinking, in very basic terms, that LeMond was the goodie, Hinault the baddie. But it isn’t as simple or straightforward as that, obviously. It never is.

Your newest book,

Etape

stands in partial contrast to a current trend in sports media. Today, there seems to be a fair amount of editorializing and people who are not actually involved in an event giving their opinion on it. This goes beyond the historical precedent of the press reporting on an event, and now takes on bloggers (myself included) and social media users. Is this book, in a way, a knowing attempt to let the individuals tell their story?

Maybe, in a way -- but more than that, and more selfishly, it’s just far more fun to write using original material. I did a book last year, Tour de France 100, which was a photographic book with essays covering the different eras. I enjoyed it, but the main point of the book was the pictures rather than the words. And I suppose the writing part of it underlined, for me, the limitations of relying entirely on secondary source material. For me the thrill in writing comes with using material I have gathered, or at least tried to -- it’s a bit like the difference between cooking with fresh ingredients or using stuff out of tins or packets. 

I really enjoy meeting interesting people and then describing what they are like, and what it feels like to meet them, as well as what they have said. I certainly wouldn’t claim that the stories in Etape are definitive, because in most cases they are just one person’s version of events. But maybe in one or two chapters these versions can add another layer to the history of that particular stage. 

How did you go about choosing the stages you wanted to feature in the book?

I wanted ones that had drama, mystery, intrigue... and in some cases an interesting back story. It was really as simple, or as complicated, as that. It was difficult to know how to describe the collection. They are not the ‘greatest,’ though some might be considered among the best. In the end I went for ‘defining.’ Perhaps it would have been better to say ‘interesting’... But the crucial ‘ingredient’ is the new interviews.

One slightly unusual chapter in your book is that of Urs Zimmermann during a rest day at the 1991 Tour de France. What can you tell us about his account? That stage is certainly different from others in the book, in part because it wasn't even a stage. It was a rest day.

Yes, again, I wanted to vary it as much as possible. Twenty accounts of a winner telling how he won a stage risked being a bit repetitive and formulaic. The story behind Zimmermann’s disqualification for not taking a flight with the other riders [on a rest day] is different to the ‘official’ version. I actually became aware of it when I interviewed him for Slaying the Badger. It was reported at the time that he was afraid of flying, but as he told me: ‘If I was afraid of flying, why did I go straight to the airport to fly home?’ It had more to do with the fact that the Tour had come to feel like ‘a prison’ to him, and he wanted a break from the conversation and company of bike riders -- so he took a car with the mechanics rather than catching the plane with the riders. 

Luis Herrera's stage victory in 1984 was a defining moment in Colombia's cycling history. Did you learn anything new about that stage in particular, beyond what you already knew going into it? Did you get a sense of that stage's importance in Colombian cycling?

I learned a lot -- mainly from you, Klaus! I knew the history of Colombian cycling from Matt Rendell’s books, your own blog and contributions to the Cycling Anthology, but of course when you interview people you learn even more. Hector Urrego, the TV journalist, was another useful source for this chapter.

As well as Herrera’s win, I was keen to tell the story of how a Colombian team came to be riding, and what it meant back home. Generally in this book I tried to avoid repeating stories I’ve told in other books, such as In Search of Robert Millar and Slaying the Badger. I did cover the 1984 Alpe d’Huez stage in the Badger, because it was the decisive battleground for Hinault and Fignon that year... Yet Herrera won the stage, and it was almost overlooked (other than in Colombia, of course). In Europe it was a sub-plot -- the front page of L’Equipe the next day showed Fignon dropping Hinault. So I was keen to re-visit that stage and look at it more from Herrera’s -- and Colombia’s -- perspective.

How did

your podcast

come about, and how has it been doing? Anything in particular that you look forward to doing in that medium?

It’s something we’ve dabbled in since 2008, always at the Tour de France. But last year, with Daniel Friebe and Lionel Birnie, we made more of a commitment to doing one every day, and putting some effort into it, with exclusive interviews, etc. The response was really good so, with sponsorship from Sharp, we kept it going as a weekly thing after the Tour. For this Tour we’re taking it up another level, joining the Telegraph to become ‘The Telegraph Cycling Podcast, supported by Jaguar’, who have come on board as sponsor.  We’ll do a daily one with the Telegraph and a weekly one aimed at the US for VeloNews, also supported by Jaguar.

It’s exciting, because radio is a thriving medium that is enhanced by technology rather than threatened by it, like print. Podcasts can really open a window on to the Tour, because you have other elements -- the travel, the daily stresses and dramas, as well as the gossip and intrigue -- that can be entertaining, informative, funny, or all three. We try in the podcasts to combine journalism with irreverence and a bit of humour. 

What project are you currently working on?

Not a cycling one, but I’ve just started working on a book about the Jamaican (track and field) sprinters. I spent a month there in March: a fascinating trip that left me feeling enthusiastic and confident that it’ll be a book about more than athletics, and more than sport. It is due to be published in 2015. ◾

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Marginalia 

1.

The resemblance is beyond uncanny, isn't it?

2.

Yes, seeing Esteban Chaves win at the Tour de Suisse made me emotional, just as his win in California did. Read

here

to understand part of the reason why.

3.

What comes in Gulf racing colors, attracts all the ladies/fellas, and is the talk of the cycling underworld? The new Speed Metal Cycling Podcast kit.

Get on it

.

4.

Yup, we Colombians have a sensitive side (perhaps an Achilles' heel), so pay attention to

Nate King

when it comes to ways to endear yourself to Colombians and not come off like an asshole:

"...don’t make cocaine jokes. If a Colombian brings it [the topic of drug trafficking and the violence that comes with it] up, feel free to discuss, but it’s akin to walking around New York making cracks about 9/11."

See, you might think

this

is being overly sensitive...but it's just the way it goes (link via my brother).

5. 

I don't think I'm a neo-Luddite, but I'm well aware of how stubborn I can be when it comes to adopting certain technologies which (for one reason or another) don't suit me. With that comes mourning the loss of technologies that worked well for me, and are now dead or dying. RSS is one such technology. A faceless content delivery platform that involved no one else but me and some code bringing me what I wanted was a dream come true. But with the rise in Twitter's popularity (along with Facebook and all those others things), the concept of sharing content has became a far more interactive and public exchange. I don't much care for many things that are interactive, and most of the ones that are public.

Today, fourth-rate alternatives to Google Reader (like Feedly) deliver content days, sometimes weeks late. Sometimes feeds for sites become unclogged after a month of silence, and you are suddenly confronted with endless content that is sometimes old useless. Such is life.

Which makes me ask the question, should this blog have a Twitter account, even though it would only be used to announce new posts or happenings? Would that help you get here to read new content? It's not something I necessarily want to do, but if my current experience with RSS is any indication, there may not be an alternative. [Update: this would be in addition to RSS, which I'll never take away].