Finding a French Grand Tour Winner

Finding a French Grand Tour Winner

Last week we posted an article discussing the Top 10 WorldTour riders who are out of contact at the end of the 2020 season.  Names such as Froome, the Yates brothers, Porte and Bob Jungels are all on the transfer market at the end of the year.  

This led to an interesting discussion about French cycling, riders and teams.  Two of the biggest names in French cycling are on our Top 10 list - Roman Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibault Pinot (Groupama FDJ).

Romain Bardet has been with AG2R for 8 years now, the entirety of his professional career.  A career which includes a Polka Dot Jersey the 2019 TdF, a podium in 2016 and 2017, plus 3 stage wins (2015, 2016, 2017), and a World Champs Silver medal to name only a few.

A 3-time stage winner at the tour (2012, 2015, 2019), as well as the White Jersey winner in 2014, Thibault Pinot has been with the French FDJ squad since he turned pro in 2010.  With stage wins at all 3 grand tours, as well as a National TT title and some individual stage races on his palmarés, he has been one of the biggest hopes for a French Grand-Tour Winner in the last decade.

The script seems the same, and has been for so long now.  France, desperate for a home-grown Grand Tour Winner, yet seemingly unable to build a squad who can bring their talented French riders in reach of the Yellow Jersey in Paris.  However, a seeming refusal by French riders to make a move beyond the domestic French teams.  

We have to say, we love and respect the loyalty, the persistence, of both the teams and the riders.  But what will shift the status-quo?  What and where is the breakdown?  Is it team management, or a lack of French talent coming though - surely not.  

Would bringing new management, funding, ethos, or new international riders help?  Or would it be a move for the likes of Bardet and Pinot to a different GC-orientated Team?  And would that be a personal victory for the rider, yet viewed as a betrayal for France?  It does seem difficult to imagine a French rider on the top-step in Paris in a foreign Jersey (especially an Ineos one).

We reckon we came close to a shift in attitudes when we saw Kenny Ellisonde sign for Sky (Ineos) in 2017, it seemed like the climate may be shifting.  A young French pro signing for the British squad.  Let’s face it, Sir Dave B knows how to recruit, and Ellisonde quickly proved his worth in his time with Sky/Ineos.  A talented french climber to do his time as a super-domestique then take the GC-lead role?  We could see it - however he then made the jump to Trek, putting pay to that idea.  Had that stuck, and successes followed, would it have had an impact on the young riders coming though?

Although not on the transfer list, the other rider on the radar has to be Julian Alaphillipe.  Multiple stage wins at the 2019 Tour, and no less than 14 days in Yellow, plus the combativity award.  Stage-race overall wins, Monument wins, Grand Tour stage wins.  One of the most talented riders in the peloton, bar-none.

Most, if not all of his success has come at the Belgian Quick-Step team since joining them in 2014.  Would he have enjoyed the success he has had if we had signed for one of the main French teams rather than the ‘Wolfpack’?  Cofidis, FDJ, AG2R, or even Europcar or Direct Energie?

Both Bardet and Pinot are up for contract renewal this year, and at 29 years old, both are within the age-window where they should be peaking in their career for the next few years.  The next contract period could arguably be their most productive as pro-riders, so this is the time to make it stick. 

Frankly, whilst it seems unlikely that Pinot or Bardet will make a move out of a French squad, personally, we would love to see these stronger French riders broaden their horizons a little.  

If we know anything about pro-cycling, it’s generally the team that wins the races - the work and the effort by teammates and domestiques.  Whilst we love that they are committed to French teams, and in absolutely no disrespect to them, it could be said that if the likes of Pinot and Bardet took a chance at a GC contender team from another nation, we could have our long-awaited French TdF champ.