The sight of three French riders in the top five of the Tour de France on Wednesday morning has raised French hopes that 24-year-old Thibault Pinot, currently in 3rd place, might stay on the podium all the way to Paris.
No Frenchman has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault’s victory in 1985, but this year’s race has showed repeated glimpses of a return to French cycling form.
As the race resumed after a rest day on Tuesday, Pinot overtook another young Frenchman, Romain Bardet, also 24, to climb into third place and take the white jersey for the best young rider.
Meanwhile a third Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Péraud, 37, climbed to fifth place.
All three trail the leader, Vincenzo Nibali, by more than five minutes. But the second-place rider, Alejandro Valverde, is just a few seconds ahead of Pinot.
French fans are fascinated by the potential being shown by the two young rivals, Pinot and Bardet.
Bernard Bourreau, who runs the French youth cycling squad, believes that Tuesday’s exploits in the Pyrenees show that Pinot is going from strength to strength.
FRANCE 24: Did you expect such a display by Pinot during the stage through the Pyrenees to Bagnères-de-Luchon?
Bernard Bourreau: He has shown he is a very aggressive rider. Today he benefited from the weakening of his main rivals. It wasn’t a surprise. I think Thibaut, compared to Romain, perhaps had more stamina.
For riders who are tired or ill, a rest day is a good thing. But there are some riders who have difficulty getting going again. For those who are in very good form, the day off can be a bad thing. It can break their rhythm. Sometimes, the next day you can have heavy legs.
I was a little worried for Romain, as he was weaker. I hope it is just temporary. Thibaut, on the other hand, is on the upswing.
FRANCE 24: During the 2013 Tour, Pinot dropped out before the 16th stage because of a throat infection. He has since said that he was unable to cope with the pressure. Did that setback help him mature?
Bernard Bourreau: I think so. Last year was very difficult for him but it toughened him up. It’s often in the most challenging moments that you learn most. The previous year he had finished in the top 15 in the Tour and so he was under huge pressure, with people saying he would finish in the top five. He was alone in carrying all that pressure.
This year there are other young French riders to share the burden. There is Romain. There is also Péraud - he is not as young but he is also a challenger for the top three.
Pinot has learned his lessons. I spoke to him about it when I picked him for the world championships. I understood that he had not been able to deal with the pressure and that it had got inside his head. But in the end, something good came out of it. He has truly grown. He is going to finish the Tour as strongly as Nibali.
FRANCE 24: Can Pinot hope to be on the podium as one of the top three finishers on Sunday on the Champs Elysées?
Bernard Bourreau: I think so. His main rivals for the podium are Péraud and Valverde, and he’s riding better than both of them. He showed that on Tuesday on the summit of Port de Balès. I don’t see why he will not be ahead of them over the next two days. It is just Saturday’s time trial that will be tougher. But with a white jersey and third place to defend he could pull a surprise there as well.
FRANCE 24: You’ve known Pinot since he joined the French junior team. Did you realise at once that he could be this good?
Bernard Bourreau: It’s hard to say. He is someone with a good head on his shoulders and has been very well prepared. He has progressed and will be a very good rider in the future.
FRANCE 24: What is he like?
Bernard Bourreau: He’s drawn to nature. He likes to go for walks in the countryside and have a simple life. That’s why the media pressure is such a trial for him. He struggles to cope with it and it caught him out last year on the Tour. He needs to let go. He plays the clown easily and he can say whatever comes into his head. Romain, on the other hand, is much quieter and more reflective.
Date created : 2014-07-23