Only one thing trumps that and that is winning the Tour. Unfortunately, it has been a while since the days of Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon in the 1980s and since then there has been a succession of potential French drivers who could have won but not.
Jean-François Bernard and Laurent Jalabert suffered from the pressures and found themselves on foreign teams to escape expectations, and afterwards it’s a story of surprises as Jean-Christophe Peraud suddenly appears out of nowhere.
More recently, the focus has been on two names that the public can cheer on to boost their dreams of glory again: Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet.
These two have swapped places in the minds of French media as the one that might since 2013, Pinot being the most spectacular, but Bardet ultimately improved it by being a more regular visitor ahead of the debates.
However, these are not the characters that were Hinault and Fignon; they’re not as arrogant or domineering or at times downright rude as the last two French winners could be, and therefore their relationship with the public is more warm and compassionate.
Hinault wanted to crush his rivals and although French audiences love a winner, they also love a touch of humility. The Breton badger only discovered this in his last year of racing and even then there was a feeling it was by clenched teeth rather than his natural tendency. Hinault was respected and admired for his dominance, but I don’t think he was carried in the hearts of the public until many years later and had stopped pinning a race number.
Laurent Fignon, on the other hand, had more sympathetic features, but he was Parisian and not from the peasant stock that had been the basic supply chain for most of the previous great French champions, so he was always compromised in the love he was receiving. .
Like Jacques Anquetil, he was seen as a calculated cyclist, too educated and too sensitive to the finer things in life to be a cyclist. The French like their heroes to be slightly imperfect. Sometimes they even like them although they have never won the Tour, hence the popularity of Raymond Poulidor.
It’s been so long since a Frenchman has won the Tour that even the mere suspicion of one of them of succeeding brings the national to an almost feverish level of joy.
And that’s the dilemma Pinot, Bardet and even Guillaume Martin now face when they line up in Nice on Saturday with the hopes, expectations and prayers of a nation wishing to end the drought hanging over cycling in France.
A home win for the French would be a huge thing, as was the reaction in Britain when Bradley Wiggins became the first British driver to win the Tour de France and then achieve Olympic success in 2012.
Imagine it but amplified a bit more and this is the impact that a French victory would have.
Instantly there would be more people to ride, more interest from sponsors and the French industry to get involved not only in cycling but in all sports. There would be no more complaints about the gloom and complications of normal life as they would have won the Tour and everything else would be forgotten for a while.
The French are known for their love of culture but they also love sport and the Tour allows them to indulge in both which is why Pinot, Bardet and Martin are becoming so important.
They carry not only their dreams, but also the dreams of a nation, so it is understandable that everyone reacts to this pressure.
When you look at Thibaut Pinot’s tour participations, it’s obvious that if everything falls into place, good things happen. However, in recent years he has been convinced by the enthusiasm of team manager Marc Madiot that he can, he must do it and he will win a Tour de France and that it is only a matter of circumstances and to be in the right place at the right time. .
He doesn’t talk to himself anymore but there is always this feeling with Pinot that he’s like a thoroughbred racehorse, gnawing at the bit; I can’t wait to go fast; and then it’s either very spectacular or ends emotionally.
Romain Bardet is not quite the opposite but he definitely looks more frail, which belies his results on the Tour as he has been much more consistent than Pinot and much more successful with two podium appearances in Paris. .
However, expectations have met him and although he still wins the stages and the Mountain classification from last year, the fact that he is moving away from a France team indicates that he has had enough. from the pressure of being one of the French hopes. A barely stellar Dauphine who was essentially a mountaineering test showed he wasn’t up there with Roglic, Bernal and Pinot and that can’t be good for his sometimes fragile morale.
La Dauphine produced another name to add to potential winners, so step up Guillaume Martin from Cofidis.
Third place overall at the Dauphine when everything around him fell or failed, confirmed the steady progression of his career despite his membership in Wanty Group-Goubert until 2020, which are not exactly known for their credentials. stage race.
Going into what could be his best years, this could be the time when Martin improves again and continues on a path that has seen him finish his first Tour de France in 23rd place, second in 21st place and last year in 12th position.
It seems to say he got it all and did the right things. Now he and other French hopefuls must face the pressures and focus on their own ambitions and the dreams of a nation.