Earlier this week we published a review of the film, Slaying the Badger, a documentary that follows Greg LeMond’s journey to become the first non-European to win the Tour de France, in 1986. But the story itself is nothing without Bernard Hinault, the elder French champion, who continually rattles LeMond’s nerve throughout, keeping the American on his toes until the finish.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

If you've not seen the film, read Richard Moore's book first, which gives a far more detailed and insightful account of the context of the LeMond-Hinault relationship, and the intriguing rivalry the played out between both riders in 1985 and 1986.

As the Vuelta rages on, it's a timely reminder of what makes sport great. The protagonists. The characters. The rivalries. Merckx-Ocaña. Lewis-Johnson. Armstrong-Ullrich. Contador-Schleck. Federer-Nadal. And the ongoing, and unfinished Contador-Froome.

It was the missing ingredient at this year's Tour de France. The battle denied. With both Froome and Contador exiting the race prematurely, the race lost not just its two biggest drawcards, but the unrealised potential that a year of anticipation had been building to.

The Tour is like a valve release, it's the culmination of everything in a season, the pre-season, the early forays in San Luis, Australia, Oman, the injuries, the wins, the verbal spars. But then rather than that build up exploding in a fitting climax, it fizzed out. Frankly, it was disappointing.

Which is no disrespect to Vincenzo Nibali, who triumphed emphatically, it's just how it is.

Like, Hinault-Lemond, the Froome-Contador rivalry has been building for some time. The Vuelta 2012 kicked things off, but the Brit faded badly in the third week.

The 2013 Tour saw Contador pummelled in return. The stage to Ventoux, as red-faced as a new-kid on the block, in Froome, can leave a five-time Grand Tour champion, in Contador.

The abject mediocrity of Contador's '13 Tour, his advancing years and the emergence of not just an invincible Froome, but also, a Colombian youth called Nairo had many feeling that the Spaniard's days at the top were over after a half-decade spell of dominance.

Contador however rallied. By June of this year, it was Froome, not Contador, who was shaking in his boots. The Spaniard's man-marking on the Criterium du Dauphine's final stage, a statement of intent; a showing not just of what he was capable of but just how much he had the Brit's measure.

Froome dusted himself off and though rattled was by no means beaten come Tour time. Then came the crashes, then came the end.

Which has made the Vuelta such a bonus. Over the 14 stages to date, we've been re-introduced to the prize-fight we missed at the Tour, and, throw a couple of jokers in there, Valverde and Rodriguez, and we're set for a thrilling final week.

Neither Contador, nor Froome is at their best, that much is clear. Both have shown their share of weakness, but as the Vuelta hits its nadir, both are in the hunt, and there's a sense, that this isn't just another Grand Tour for either rider. This is a title fight. Two heavyweights fighting for top-dog status, as 2014 draws to its close. Froome, Contador. Take your pick.

SBS will broadcast eight live stages of the Vuelta a Espana, in addition to daily highlights.