Renault: The best Tour de France team ever?

Renault dominance of the 1984 Tour was crushing. Winners of 10 stages, they also claimed the yellow and white jerseys.

In 1984, the 10-man Renault-Gitane team, managed by the brilliant Cyrille Guimard, started the Tour with their focus on helping defending champion Laurent Fignon retain the title in the face of the challenge of four-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, who had missed the 1983 race. “The Renault team was head and shoulders above the rest of the peloton,” Fignon wrote in his autobiography, We Were Young and Carefree. “It was quite something. With Jules, Barteau, Didier, Gaigne, the Madiot brothers, Menthéour, Poisson and the world champion LeMond we had all the available cards in our hand. We could have won.”

Was it the best Tour team ever? The stats suggest it may well have been. Fignon finished a massive 10-32 up on Hinault, with LeMond third and best young rider. Peugeot bagged 10 stage wins and the team classification, where they finished 46-44 up on Skil.

1. Laurent Fignon

Fignon came into the '84 Tour as the defending champion. Yet, questions remained about the quality of that success given the injury-enforced absence of four-time champion Bernard Hinault and the unfortunate abandon of race leader Pascal Simon with a broken shoulder. Although Hinault edged the prologue, beating his 23-year-old rival by three seconds, Fignon’s Renault outfit won the team time trial three days later. Fignon struck again when he cruised to victory in the 67km time trial to Le Mans, and was then happy to allow teammate Vincent Barteau to have centre stage in the yellow jersey until the final week. Fignon began that with a mountain time trial success at La Ruchère, then took yellow when he finished second to Lucho Herrera at Alpe d’Huez, where Fignon admitted he laughed at Hinault’s repeated attacks. “Bernard was just too proud and wanted to do everything gallantly. But the battle was already lost,” Fignon said in his autobiography. Victorious again at La Plagne, Crans Montana and in the final time trial, Fignon finished 10 minutes ahead of Hinault and quipped he would go on to “five or six Tours then I’ll stop”. But he never won the race again. He went on to become a race organizer and highly respected TV commentator. He died in 2010.

2. Vincent Barteau

Riding his first Tour, Barteau surprised everyone when he took the yellow jersey on stage 5 after the three-man break not only stayed clear but finished almost 18 minutes up on the bunch. Barteau retained the lead for 12 days, keeping some of the pressure off his team leader Fignon. He won the Bastille Day stage into Marseille in 1989 before retiring the following season. He changed tack immediately, buying a franchise for the Jeff de Bruges chocolate company and now has three Jeff de Bruges stores in his native Normandy. A livewire personality who tried out as a stand-up comedian, he worked as a consultant for Eurosport and acts as the “directeur sportif” for the Tour’s publicity caravan.

3. Lucien Didier

The Luxembourger was a Renault stalwart valued for his strength in the mountains who had been with the team since 1978. He rode the Tour six times and on each occasion rode into Paris as a member of the team that won the yellow jersey, four times with Hinault and twice with Fignon. Stepson of former Luxembourg pro Bim Diederich, he is the father of Trek Factory Racing’s Laurent Didier.

4. Dominique Gaigne

Winner of the 1983 Vuelta prologue and a Tour stage that same year, Gaigne was one of the powerhouses behind Renault’s team time trial success at Valenciennes on day four. Gaigne went on to lead the 1986 Tour for a day, then had spells with Toshiba and Histor before retiring to become a builder.

5. Pascal Jules

A Parisian like Fignon and the defending champion’s closest friend in the sport, Jules won the stage to Nantes the day after Fignon had struck his first major blow against Hinault in the Le Mans TT. Jules turned pro with Renault at the same time as Fignon (1982). He was hugely talented but, according to Guimard, Jules didn’t have the mental strength to reach the very top. “I knew he would never win the Tour, unlike Fignon and LeMond,” Guimard wrote in his autobiography, Dans Les Secrets du Tour de France, “but his incredible class should have enabled him to have a career to match someone like Rudi Altig, for example.” Tragically, Jules died in October 1987 in a car accident after taking part in a charity football match. He was 26.

6. Marc Madiot

Another of Guimard’s dependables, Madiot had, in Hinault’s absence, been nominated Renault’s leader in 1983, partly to reduce the pressure on Tour debutant Fignon, who Guimard viewed as a more credible prospect for the yellow jersey. Madiot finished a career-best eighth overall as Fignon took the title. In 1984, Madiot set the tone for Renault, winning the second stage Louvroil. He went on to win Paris-Roubaix twice before founding and becoming team manager of the La Française des Jeux team in 1997. His own team leader, Thibaut Pinot, currently lies third overall after the Tour’s stage 16, the first day in the Pyrenees.

7. Yvon Madiot

Younger brother of Marc, he never won a stage of the Tour, but in 1986 finished 10th overall in the jersey of the French champion. Happy to leave Marc centre stage, Yvon Madiot plays a key role at in finding and bringing through talented young riders. Of the nine FDJ riders at the Tour, he played a significant role in mentoring Arthur Vichot, Jérémy Roy, Cédric Pineau, Matthieu Ladagnous, Mickaël Delage, Arnaud Démare and William Bonnet. He shares directeur sportif duties with Thierry Bricaud, focusing primarily on the sporting side of the job, while Bricaud focuses more on the logistical aspects.

8. Pierre-Henri Menthéour

Elder brother of Erwann, who was briefly touted as a potential French Tour de France contender in the early 1990s, Algiers-born Menthéour won stage 13 to Rodez. He retired from racing in 1986, but returned to racing at the age of 36 to break the French hour record, later admitting he had doped to do so. He went on to have a highly successful career as a journalist and cameraman, working on the Tour for Eurosport but also covering many other subjects. In 2008, he produced a prize-winning documentary on Afghanistan. He died in April this year aged 53 after a long battle with cancer.

9. Pascal Poisson

The stage winner the day before Menthéour in Blagnac, Poisson spent 10 years in the pro peloton, retiring in 1990 when he was with LeMond at Z. A Breton who had always loved the sea and sailing, he moved to Guadeloupe and was able to devote more time to his passion, as well as running a local cycling club. He is aiming to take part in this November’s Route du Rhum, a single-handed yacht race between St-Malo and Guadeloupe.

10. Greg LeMond

The American world champion finished third and best young rider on his Tour debut. Although he didn’t claim a stage win, LeMond provided Fignon with sterling support in the team time trial and, particularly, the high mountains. LeMond joined the La Vie Claire team in 1985, helping Hinault win his fifth Tour title that year, before claiming the yellow jersey for himself in 1986. In 1989, when he and Fignon were back in their pomp after two injury-affected seasons, LeMond fought a race-long duel with the Frenchman for the Tour title, famously winning by eight seconds. LeMond retained the title in 1990 and went on to set up his own bike brand. This year he is working as a consultant for Eurosport on the race.

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