Interview: Steve Bauer, Part I
When you think of great cyclists from North America, Steve Bauer is one of those guys whose name immediately comes to mind. Most famous for his rides at the ’88 Tour de France and ’90 Paris-Roubaix, he was also the silver medalist at the ’84 Olympic Road Race. Just before the Tour of California RKP sat down with him for a chat about his racing past and his career post-racing.
RKP: Of all the editions of the Tour de France, the 1986 battle between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault seems to generate more interest and more unanswered questions than any other edition. Just how tense were things?
SB: I think it started out to be really amicable. In the back of my mind I was thinking it was Greg’s turn to win the tour he was definitely on form to win it. And I think the previous year going back bernard crashed hard he was injured the jersey was under a bit challenge from Roche. Greg had to hold back his chances on Luz Ardiden. So I was okay thinking Greg did his job, he basically worked for Hinault he sat on Roche’s wheel he didn’t attack and he didn’t try to take advantage of the situation. And because he could have.
The preamble in ’85 sort of led me to believe it was Greg’s turn. But bike racing doesn’t work like that. And when you have two guys on the same team that can win the Tour de France it’s a rare occasion such as with Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault.
Bernard was saying to himself and everyone else, ‘The best guy’s gonna win.’ And he probably had that vision in his mind. So we’re gonna race and we’re gonna see who the best guy is. Right? So he took some pretty interesting strategies in the beginning of the race and attacked when our team was in control of the race, which was very brilliant, actually. He took the lead and then Greg, fortunately, was able to fight back due to Bernard’s I would say machoism or trying to do too much. He attacked on the Tourmalet with 100km to go to Superbagneres and he died, right? And Greg took advantage of that and basically he took back the time that he lost. Otherwise he might have lost the Tour de France. If Bernard hadn’t tried to do the double—
RKP: It was an audacious move!
SB: Right! Now we’re in a situation where it was even Steven pretty much and it was really a true battle. The Alpe d’Huez day everybody remembers it to be Greg, Hinault, Greg, Hinault going up the climb. Greg was afraid people would take him down. Bernard said, ‘I’ll lead the climb.’ And they both say afterwards they could have dropped each other. But Greg thought it was pretty much over after that day. He thought, ‘Okay, it’s over, things are good,’ and then in the press conference Bernard says well it’s not over until after the time trial. And Greg flipped. He flipped! So then it got really tense. It sort of seemed to be okay until then and then from Alpe d’Huez to Paris was not.
I roomed with Greg that night. He was furious! He was so angry that Hinault would actually say would keep racing and not help him win the Tour de France when he was in the lead. So it got really tense. The big day that I remember the most was the race to St. Etienne where Greg was in front first over the top of the Col and Bernard was helping the Panasonic team chase Greg. Then Greg got caught and a counterattack went and Hinault went down the road and our team was chasing Hinault (laughing). At least, the Anglophones. It was just crazy. Bernard chasing Greg and us chasing Bernard.
RKP: Hampsten said that was one of the worst days of bike racing he ever had.
SB: Yeah. It was just insane. It was like, what were we doing? So the team was split, obviously. Hampsten, myself and the English speakers obviously helping Greg, and then the French boys were helping Bernard. It was definitely split alliances based on what we felt or who we thought deserved to win the race. And that was it. Then it went to the time trial and after the time trial it was over. I remember seeing Greg after the finish and he was just like pushed to the absolute limits. Completely. And Hinault would say well that’s the way it should be. I pushed him to his limits and now he knows that he won it being the best guy. That’s what Hinault would say; okay you gotta honor that.
RKP: At the end of the day there was a certain logic to what he had to say.
SB: Yeah (laughing).
RKP: If he wanted Greg to prove he was the strongest rider, it would seem that he did so.
RKP: It sounds like it was a lot of stress to put the riders through.
SB: Koechli [Paul Koechli was the team’s DS] was a really good manager. He kept a really good balance, even keel. It must have been really difficult for him as well as director but he seemed to be the right man for that job. To keep the team on track and there were no fisticuffs. I mean, there could have been.
RKP: Okay, on to another great race: 1990 Paris-Roubaix. I recently heard someone say the whole reason you didn’t win was parallax, that the angle of the camera captured the finish line wrong. And it was the first time I’d ever heard anything like that. I wasn’t there; I don’t know, but it sounds crazy. What I’ve always heard was that you were riding into the setting sun, it was hard to see and difficult to judge just where the finish line was. What’s your take on that finish?
SB: Well, I mean, it’s kind of interesting if I reflect on the sprint that—my track experience, because I came from a track background, my track experience actually failed me there because the size of the Roubaix velodrome puts the finish line more before the banking, where most tracks put it down like two-thirds of the stretch. And in the effort, we were just going flat out for the line, I’m expecting the line to be about five meters further. You’re sprinting almost in a blackout you’re going so hard. And in the photo obviously we hadn’t thrown our bikes yet.
RKP: From the photos I’ve seen it looks like Planckaert had thrown his but you hadn’t thrown yours yet.
SB: Well, you look at the photo and Planckaert’s thinking about throwing his bike. He was starting, but he missed it too. He was starting to initiate it, but he didn’t beat me with the bike throw. It was like I hadn’t started the bike throw and he had sort of initiated a bit but he wasn’t going past me with a throw, you know? And that’s just it. I just thought the line was another few meters, so I was ready to throw the bike, I crossed the line and a flash went off and I went ‘shit’ and we’re already past the line. The flash goes off and you’re like ‘awwww, damn it.’
But, like I said, with my track experience you almost sense the line is coming into the banking just as the banking starts to turn and there’s the finish line. But Roubaix is a 400 meter velodrome. Call it a mistake or whatever; other than that I rode a perfect race. That’s what it is.
The photo? Who knows. I saw a photo where he beat me after the finish but maybe I should have had more scrutiny on the judges or the photo or the photo finish. I don’t know. Hindsight. It’s a long time ago. Not really worth digging it up now.
RKP: Certainly, but people remain curious because it was an epic day of racing.
SB: Yeah, yeah, it was that close for sure. I did a perfect race. That’s what I feel about it anyway. That’s one of those days—you do a perfect race and lose by an inch. Or less. Actually it was less than an inch (laughs).
RKP: It made it memorable. Perhaps the best second-place finish ever at that race.
Check back next week for Part II.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International