French cyclist Bernard Hinault performed the predictable this afternoon by winning the 69th Tour de France, his fourth victory in five years. As he crossed the finish line under cloudy skies on the broad Champs Elysees ahead of the other 124 competitors, he became one of four men in cycling history to win this race and the Tour of Italy in the same year.
Hinault's total elapsed time in the 2,181-mile race--which began July 3 in Basel, Switzerland--was 92 hours 8 minutes 46 seconds. The favorite from the beginning and overall leader since July 14, Hinault was 6:21 ahead of his closest rival, Jopp Zoetemelk.
Zoetemelk has finished second in the race six times, three times behind Hinault. He won in 1980, the year Hinault dropped out in midrace because of tendinitis.
Hinault didn't take any chances this year. At stake was not only the thousands of dollars in prizes but glory. He joined cycling greats Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddey Merckx in the record books for the double victory. At age 27, and in his racing prime, he is also in a position in the next few years to become the first man to win the Tour de France six times. Anquetil and Merckx each won five times.
He raced conservatively throughout the 21 legs of the race. He pushed himself only enough to achieve and maintain a comfortable margin. Although he could have won the overall race without coming in first in any of the legs, he won two sprints before today's event, a 187-kilometer leg originating in Fontenay-sous-Bois.
Hinault's defensive strategy brought some criticism that he lacks panache--a most serious accusation among the French. But he disproved that today as he came in a split-second ahead of everyone else before an estimated half-million spectators. Many of the fans had staked out their prime spots along the Champs Elysees as long as six hours before the first racers were expected. They passed their time watching amateur cyclists try out the route and buying souvenirs, including comic books being hawked for 20 francs, slightly less than $3.
Hinault, who rides for the Renault-Gitane team, wanted badly to win the leg sometimes called the most beautiful of the tour. After crossing the Seine from the Left Bank, the route was a tourist guide to Paris, swinging past the Louvre Museum, the Place de la Concorde, the American Embassy and the Arch de Triomphe. He gave fans what they wanted, performing as though he was uncertain of the race's outcome by speeding ahead of the pack and then nosing over for the final win, 5 hours 1 minute 21 seconds after the leg began.
In a race traditionally dominated by continental riders, Irishman Sean Kelly won the points championship and sprints competition.