Less than a week to raise your head. There are only a few stages left for the French riders to ensure the average established since the beginning of the century: between two and three victories in the Tour de France (2.55 exactly). The good years were much more, with a peak of six successes in 2010. Low waters, on the other hand, are more and more frequent: a single bouquet of winners in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2021.
Last year, the impatient were overwhelmed: Julian Alaphilippe had closed the recurring debate by winning the entry. Only here: the double world champion is not in the peloton this time. And it’s not the only one missing. “We don’t have a rider above the rest in any of the categoriescomments bluntly Romain Bardet. Among the fighters, Julian is missing. Arnaud Démare isn’t here, so we don’t have any sprinters. And among climbers, we are not at the level of Tadej Pogacar or Jonas Vingegaard. »
Great champions who want to win everything
“Nothing surprising”therefore, for the Auvergne champion, on the podium in 2016 (2e) and 2017 (3e), to see the Tricolores struggling to find a place in the sun. Especially since the fight is more than tough and all-out this year. “We can learn from the first two weeks of racing that the notion of “transition stages” should be erased from our vocabulary.underlines Jean-René Bernaudeau, the boss of the French team TotalEnergies. Everyone is on top of things every day. Winning on the Tour has become very hard as the stakes are monstrous, the Grande Boucle being the only real sounding board for cycling. »
On the side of Cofidis, another hexagonal formation passed 450 m from victory on Sunday July 17 when its escaped runner Benjamin Thomas was swallowed up by the peloton in extremis, it is also argued that the shooting window is very narrow. “We observe a rise in the general level, a hyper-professionalization, and, at the same time as the desire for control of certain teams that already existed, the desire of some great champions to crunch everything, like Wout van Aert (two stage wins and four times 2eEd), notes Christian Guiberteau, sports director of Cofidis. There are many more openings on other races. The opportunities to win, we find them more easily on the other big Tours, the Italian Giro or the Spanish Vuelta. »
This Franco-French debate, the boss of the Groupama-FDJ team, Marc Madiot, is a little annoyed. “Great cycling nations like Italy and Spain are also struggling this yearhe marks. Cycling has become globalized, and in the life of the teams, the important thing is the jersey more than the nationality. What matters to me is to achieve results, whether with a Frenchman or another of my riders. »
The general classification rather than the stages
And the historic troop leader (since 1997) also highlights the presence of two Frenchmen in the top ten of the general classification before approaching the Pyrenees, his colt David Gaudu and Romain Bardet hoping to stay at the forefront. Two Blues in the top 10 on the Champs-Élysées would paradoxically be a great performance. This has only happened eight times since 2000, with a record year in 2014 when three Tricolores jostled with the leaders (Jean-Christophe Péraud 2eThibaut Pinot 3e and Romain Bardet 6e).
“We focus on stage victories by often depreciating a good place in the general classificationregrets Romain Bardet. We do not remember the seventh or the eighth of a Tour, even though it is a harder performance. It’s a shame, and I personally find it very rewarding to fight with the best in the mountains, on the pedals. » A position that David Gaudu also likes, displaying at the start of the Tour the high ambition of grabbing the podium. He wants to believe it because “the Pyrenees with steeper and shorter passes perhaps correspond better to my characteristics as a climber-puncher than the passes in the Alps, where you have to put on gear”, hopes the leader of Groupama-FDJ.
One certainty: the Blues are more and more rare to register their names on the Tour winners, but they are also fewer and fewer in the peloton. In 2014, the year of the hexagonal trio pointing in the top 10, there were 43 French people on arrival on the Champs-Élysées. From the 16e stage between Carcassonne and Foix on Tuesday July 19, there were only 25 left. This also explains that.