The French had been spoiled by Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil plus their other winners during the 1960s and 1970s.
Hinault: France's second five-times winner
After the Merckx years - and Raymond Poulidor's failures - Bernard Thevenet's 1975 and 1977 wins had been a major relief to the host nation.
But Thevenet was himself eclipsed by a blunt Breton they called "Le Blaireau" (the Badger), not so much for his personaility as his looks.
Bernard Hinault was not as good as Merckx - nobody could be - but he was as good a sequel as France could expect to the Belgian king.
1978: Bernard Hinault (Fra)
1979: Bernard Hinault (Fra)
1980: Joop Zoetemelk (Ned)
1981: Bernard Hinault (Fra)
1982: Bernard Hinault (Fra)
1983: Laurent Fignon (Fra)
1984: Laurent Fignon (Fra)
Like Anquetil, Hinault did not suffer fools gladly and his five wins were marked with a series of rows with rivals and team-mates alike.
His Tour debut in 1978 will never be forgotten in France, as he emulated Fausto Coppi, Anquetil, Hugo Koblet and Merckx by winning at the first attempt.
It was the 1979 win that was more like Merckx, as Hinault won the green jersey as well as the yellow, and took seven stages in the process.
But Hinault's unpopularity with his peers was also demonstrated in this race.
Fignon: Distinctive young Parisien
The bunch attacked after Hinault punctured on a cobbled section in northern France.
"There are some riders who will suffer plenty after what happened today," he warned, before proving they were not only hollow words.
Hinault pulled out while wearing the yellow jersey in 1980, due to tendinitis, and Joop Zoetemelk gained the Netherlands' second Tour win.
In 1981 and 1982 the Badger returned to make more riders suffer, and even won the final sprint in Paris after his fourth win in five years.
DURING THIS ERA
Michel Pollentier disqualified for faking urine test in 1978
Riders strike in 1978 over split stages and transfers
1981 sees first Aussie in yellow jersey - Phil Anderson
Sean Kelly takes green jersey for Ireland in 1982 and 1983
Britain's first jersey - the mountains prize - for Robert Millar in 1984
Lucien van Impe's 1983 polka dot jersey equals king of the mountains record
This was also an era when English-speaking riders like Australia's Phil Anderson and Ireland's Sean Kelly began to make their mark.
Then, in 1983, Hinault sat out the Tour, some say because of a recurrence of tendinitis, others because of a row over money with his team.
That allowed France to cheer a new hero, a sophisticated bespectacled young Parisian called Laurent Fignon.
Fignon became yet another debut winner but, when Hinault returned in 1984, everyone expected the old man to equal the record of five wins.
However, Fignon rode into his home city of Paris in yellow, beating the man from the country by 10 minutes and proving 1983 had been no fluke.
Hinault would be back in 1985 to set a record, but the Tour and its riders were changing again and he would not find it easy.