Hot air balloon and retired Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault is at it again.
On Monday the Frenchmen added extra gasoline to the Oleg Tinkov Challenge — one million euros split between Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana if they agree to ride all three grand tours with his man Alberto Contador.
At a gathering to celebrate Nibali’s Tour win, the Badger, perhaps after a few glasses of wine, suggested that it’s possible to ride all three tours and ride to win.
“The current calendar provides more space for recovery between one tour and another,” stated Hinault. “For this reason exactly, I think it is possible to race as a challenger not only in the Giro and the Tour, but also in the Vuelta.”
That’s signature Hinault-speak — which is almost always based on his core philosophy that nobody is tougher than him, past, present or future. So to translate a bit, what Hinault was really saying was, in my day, being the tough guy patron, I could have ridden all three grand tours no problem. I’m a badass. Now let’s head back to the bar and I’ll pontificate some more.
The corollary is that today, almost nobody is tough enough to ride three tours because guys are soft and too skinny and their balls are invisible. Now given that Hinault was there to party with Nibali, we’re sure he’d say the Italian has the physical and mental strength to rock all three but the rest of those guys … well, look at that Froome character, a skeleton who stares at his power meter. No badass in the Sky bus.
It would be instructive to get Hinault’s arch rival Greg Lemond to weigh in on the “Three Tours” debate. Lemond hasn’t said a word on the idea but we’re guessing he’d say it’s really not possible to be competitive with that kind of serial torture.
Mr. Tranquillo, Vincenzo Nibali gave a pretty straightforward and realistic answer to the circus act that Tinkov has in mind. “You feel each of those races in your legs and your head, they stay with you,” he said. “You’d have to wipe out everything else, like Tirreno-Adriatico and the Classics… It would be race-training camp, race-training camp, race-training camp – in short, you’d be cut off from the world. And what about your family? Where does it end?”
Besides the “inhumane” angle, Nibali brings up a another strong point: you might see him in three grand tours but nowhere else. For a rider of his wide talents and ambitions, that also makes for a pretty repetitive grind. While the “best of the best” argument for the grand tours might bump interest in the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, every other race on the calendar would suffer. Nobody doubts that cycling needs new ideas and bold initiatives but is this really a bright idea?
You can just imagine how Bradley Wiggins would react to the plan. In his book My Time, he spoke eloquently about the hardships of leaving his wife and kids to focus 100% on the Tour de France preparations. Now multiply that by three and see who is happy.
Froome doesn’t have any kids but how will Nibali and Quintana feel about being “cut off from the world?” Perhaps on occasion they’d like to see little Emma and Mariana. Then again, maybe not — Jens Voigt has six kids and seemed to enjoy being far away.
In any case, we’re not putting too much stock in what Bernard Hinault has to say about riding three grand tours in one season. Anybody who has seen his fine work as a stage bouncer at the Tour de France is impressed by his tough guy presence. But times have indeed changed. Ain’t nobody gonna play Tinkov’s game.