Brussels (AFP) – Colombian rider Egan Bernal is young enough to surpass any of the Tour de France legends, French great Bernard Hinault told AFP on Sunday.
The straight talking 64-year-old’s fierce competitive personality earned him the nickname ‘The Badger’, but he was in a relaxed and friendly mood on Sunday on a sunny day at the Village de Depart in Brussels.
Hinault is amazingly the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France, back in 1985, when he clinched his record-equalling fifth title.
He believes Bernal, the 22-year-old Colombian sensation, could surpass him.
“It’s possible there will be another winner of five tours,” Hinault told AFP in an interview.
“There’s Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, me and Miguel Indurain, but there’s no reason someone else won’t win five.
“Look at Chris Froome, he’s won four of them and let’s see what condition he’s in next year,” Hinault said.
But he was more confident another Ineos rider would be the one — and not reigning champion Geraint Thomas but Bernal, even though he is yet to win a Tour.
“I believe Bernal will be the No.1 in Paris this year,” Hinault said.
“And Geraint won’t be far behind him either,” he said.
“He (Bernal) may go much further (than me) too if you think for a minute that he looks likely to win the Tour this year.
“If you start from that principle and remember that he is only 22 years old, then he may go much further than any of us,” said Hinault.
– Shoot you down –
Hinault had a warning for the multi-talented Colombian, drawn from his own experience of winning a first Tour.
“Once you have won it, everyone else is out to get you,” he warned.
“All their tactics are targeting you, so you have to work out a way of managing that.
“You have to think about the other riders and the attacks they might be planning.
“There are days when small teams will try and win a stage, which can be distracting. You need to know how much to give and how much not to give so as not to lose out in the big picture.”
Hinault said that wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, which he did for 76 days, could also be a distraction.
“The first time I pulled on the yellow jersey was at Nancy, 41 years ago. It was the last big stage of the Tour and after that we went back up to Paris so there was no risk that time,” he said.
“It doesn’t change much, but you become the one who everyone wants to shoot down,” he explained.
“When you wear the yellow jersey everyone knows who you are, the leader, this distinctive jersey is so eye-catching everyone automatically sees you and senses you are the leader.”
– Froome’s chances of five –
During a nine-year run when French riders won the Tour de France eight times, Hinault finished first in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985. He also won the Giro three times and the Vuelta twice. His five victories are officially the record, though Lance Armstrong later finished first seven times only to be stripped of his victories for doping.
Hinault said he saw no reason why Chris Froome could not overcome the injuries he suffered in a crash in June which have ruled him out of this year’s race.
“He’s 34 now and had a serious accident this year, so let’s wait and see what happens with that next year, what condition he’s in,”
“I myself got badly injured, I also pulled out of a Tour injured in 1980.”
“I had an operation on my knee in 1983 and came back and came second the next year in 1984 and then won it the year after in 1985,” he said.
“But I was much younger than he was, he’s 34, when I had my operation I was 26 and the second time I was operated on I was 29, (so) I think it can play a role, age.”