almost goes without saying, but good golly, did the American cycling
establishment ever pick the wrong athlete to put all their PR chips on. It is
especially frustrating considering what a great champion they had in Greg
LeMond. LeMond has indeed had his issues with Sheryl Crow’s ex, but his
greatest rivalry was with a member of his own team. John Dower chronicles the
pitched battle between LeMond and Bernard “The Badger” Hinault in Slaying the Badger, which screens
during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
was the great American hope of cycling at a time when the sport was totally off
the American radar. At least the French noticed when he started dominating
international competitions. Soon the American was recruited for the prestigious
La Vie Claire team, headed by Hinault, the four time Tour de France winner.
There was a general understanding if LeMond would help Hinault win a coveted
fifth Tour in 1985, Hinault would ride in support of LeMond in 1986. It was not
just unspoken agreement, it was evidently quite well verbalized.
held up his end of the bargain in 1985, albeit under controversial
circumstances. Frankly, he probably could have won, but deliberately held back on
coach Paul Köchli’s instructions. After the fact, he learned Hinault’s
momentary setback involved far more lost time than the coach let on. As a
result, he felt rather betrayed when Köchli introduced a new policy for 1986:
every man for himself.
might sound like hyperbole, but Slaying could
arguably be considered the sports documentary equivalent of Rashomon. Few docs on any subject
feature such widely divergent interpretations of the same events. For what its
worth, the archival interview and press conference footage consistently support
LeMond’s side of the story.
when wearing an uncomfortable looking back brace necessitated by an auto
accident, LeMond is a lively, but well spoken interview subject—and he has much
to say. Scenes with his wife Kathy further humanize him, clearly suggesting
they still have that old magic going on. Appropriately, Dower also scores a sit
down with The Badger, who somehow comes through the film relatively unsullied. Köchli
is a different matter. His dissembling and hair-splitting degenerates into a
downright risible spectacle. If backpedalling were a sport in its own right, he
would be its Michael Jordan.
Even if you know every stage of the 1986 Tour by
heart, Dower still builds the suspense quite adroitly. By the same token,
viewers who only know the sport for its unfortunate recent developments will find
themselves completely caught up in the film. This is just first class
documentary storytelling all the way around. Highly recommended, Slaying the Badger screens again this
Saturday (4/26) as part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Greg LeMond, Tribeca '14