Young French generation boost Tour hopes at home
By Barnaby Chesterman ,AFP
July 16, 2014, 12:03 am TWN
LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France -- There may not have been a French winner of the Tour de France since Barnard Hinault in 1985 but in Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot the future looks bright.
Pinot battled to second place on Monday's grueling mountainous stage, coming home just 15 seconds behind the winner, race leader Vincenzo Nibali.
Bardet was just seven seconds further down the road in fifth and now leads the young riders' white jersey classification.
In fact his finish took him up to fourth overall at 3:01 from Nibali.
Pinot is now sixth overall at 3:47 and second to Bardet in the young riders' competition.
But the form the pair showed had French cycling fans dreaming not just of a home battle for the white jersey, but perhaps some Gallic interest in the chase for the leader's yellow one as well.
It capped a fine few days for the French on what was their Bastille Day national holiday.
Another young Frenchman, Tony Gallopin, started the day in yellow and although he lost the jersey to Nibali, he battled courageously and finished the day fifth overall.
That left four Frenchmen in the top 10, with veteran Jean-Christophe Peraud, who was fourth on the stage, now eighth overall.
And it all came after Blel Kadri's stage victory on Saturday and Gallopin taking the yellow jersey on Sunday.
But what the French public really wants is a home Tour winner.
Pinot and Bardet might not yet be ready for that but the signs are encouraging.
Pinot, 24, in particular, has reason to feel positive.
He announced himself to the French public two years ago, finishing 10th on the Tour, but he was a major disappointment last year before pulling out after the 16th stage.
Yet he bounced back to finish seventh at the Vuelta Espana and so far in this Tour he's shown the ability to become a Grand Tour challenger.
"I'm happy. I felt good but I wasn't having a great day," he said after Monday's stage.
"For me, the form is there, I don't have any regrets. Nibali is better than me."
For Bardet, 23, his success is part of a joyous Tour for his AG2R team.
Kadri won Saturday's stage and he and Peraud are in the top eight.
Bardet made his mark last year when he finished 15th on the Tour.
He's been developing well as a stage racer, finishing fourth at the Tour of Catalunya and fifth at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this year.
He will wear the white jersey following Tuesday's rest day.
"I gave my all on these climbs," he said of Monday's seven categorised climbs on a brutal day of racing.
"I need to recover but we're happy with what we've done and now we'll rest (Tuesday) and decompress. It's deserved."
As for the white jersey, he said he'd savor it as long as he has it.
"It's great for team, the whole staff are behind us, it's superb.
"My feet are on the ground, it's only my second Tour. Last year was not too bad.
"This year is different and since the first few days it's been going better.
"It's fabulous, as a team we're coming up. It's a collective where there is a feeling between us, and everyone's efforts are paying off."