Many people wondered why retired French tennis star Yannick Noah was on stage with five time Tour winner Bernard Hinault for the route presentation of the 2012 Tour de France.
The mystery has now been solved: They’re half-brothers.
Both Hinault and Noah discovered that they’re related through their mother Marie-Claire. Hinault (56) was very young when his mother divorced his father and remarried a Cameroonian soccer player. That second marriage produced a son, Noah, now 51, who only recently learned that he has a half brother in Hinault.
It was Tour de France and ASO boss Christian Prudhomme who apparently made the initial connection when his staff put together some biographical material for the presentation. “Of course, we were stunned but when I saw the mother’s name, it was the same for both,” said Prudhomme. “The Tour is always an astonishing experience and I think for Bernard and Yannick it has become even more special.”
Both champions expressed surprise but overwhelming happiness about the unexpected family connections. “I cannot put it into words,” said Noah. “As a young man I watched the Tour and always, it was Hinault who fascinated me. I said to myself, if I was a rider, I would want to be like Bernard. Now, in a sense, I am.”
The Badger was initially suspicious of their shared past but quickly came to the conclusion that this was no mistake. “My mother left us when we were very young but when I saw Yannick walk in, I saw her again. The smile is the same. I wouldn’t have believe it but I never question my own impressions. Yes, I am proud to say we are brothers.” Subsequent DNA analysis at a genetics lab outside Paris only confirmed what everyone already knew.
For Prudhomme, the chance to bring the two French sports stars together was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It was electric. You look at the tour presentation photo and both Bernard and Yannick are beaming with happiness,” said Prudhomme. “That is not simply the excitement of the 2012 route, I can assure you. That is finding family and a bond you never knew existed. Bernard has softened and I will tell you, he has truly been a pleasure these last few weeks.”
The two half brothers are already working hard to make up for lost time. Hinault has been diligently listening to Noah’s hit singles Donne-moi une vie and Aux arbres citoyens and spending hours watching Noah’s electrifying win against Mats Wilander in the 1983 French Open.
For his part, Noah is studying Le Patron’s cycling career in great detail and has spent several evenings with Hinault to get the true story of the Hinault-LeMond feud of the 1096 Tour de France. He has already watched the DVD of Hinault’s famous snowstorm win in the 1980 Liège–Bastogne–Liège a dozen times.
While surprising to some close friends who know the men well, both stars have widened their horizons. The stubborn and conservative Breton Hinault has changed after weekends listening to African music with Noah.
Noah has purchased a race bike and had it fitted to the Badger’s exact specifications. The two have been spotted in Brittany riding the coast roads and then sharing a pastis in a local bar. “He’s a fantastic guy,” says Noah. “From the outside you think, he’s a hardman, a tough guy, but it’s just the opposite. And he has an amazing singing voice — especially for the ballads. If you could hear him do Piaf or Brel it would blow your mind.”
Given this amazing revelation, it’s no wonder that Bernard Hinault and Yannick both echo a familiar sentiment: “Vive Le Tour!?