It has been 36 years since a French rider won the Tour de France.
In fact, only about 10 of this year’s potential starters were even born when Bernard Hinault beat Greg LeMond by 1:42 for his fifth and final title. At the time, with a nine-game winning streak in 11 years, it was unimaginable that the home country was going through such a drought.
The riders have fought well over the past few years with Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot getting on the podium, but none has come close to stopping the rut.
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Neither Pinot nor Bardet are ready to travel the Tour de France this year, leaving the hopes of a nation to rest elsewhere.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) seem ready to take over and take on the burden of a future nation of origin when the race leaves Brittany in just over two weeks.
Here is the official #TDF2021 route!
– Tour de France ™ (@LeTour) November 1, 2020
Can these two courageous heroes give France the hope of finally regaining the auspices of the highest march in Paris, or should the nation of origin adjust its expectations?
Alaphilippe caused something akin to Beatle-mania when he rode in yellow twice during the 2019 Tour de France. He spent more time in yellow than any other rider during this edition, the ‘donning 14 times in two stints, and won two stages along the way.
He would eventually have to relinquish his hold on the lead of the race to future winner Egan Bernal, and he had slipped to fifth place – by far his best result on a grand tour – by the time the race entered Paris.
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The 2020 race also saw him enjoy a three-day stay in the yellow jersey before giving it to Adam Yates. This year, the Frenchman has another chance to add a few days in yellow to his prize list with an opening on the Tour in a classic way.
The striking uphill finishes in Landerneau and Mûr-de-Bretagne are favorite terrain for Alaphilippe. It won’t be easy and he will face stiff competition with Mathieu van der Poel, Alejandro Valverde, Primož Roglič and Michael Woods, to name a few.
Alaphilippe looked impactful at the Tour de Suisse this week, although he narrowly missed the final finish he needs to secure the victory. If he turned the tide and won, he could spend several days in yellow at the Tour de France.
Taking yellow and keeping it, however, are two very different perspectives.
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Alaphilippe impressed tremendously with his fifth place finish in 2019, but it was an exception to his usual grand touring performances and not the norm.
Of course, if he has done it once, it is entirely possible to have another great race like this in 2021. But to move from fifth place to win the overall title is a very difficult request.
With a team around him more focused on sprints, Alaphilippe will have less support than most contenders in the GC and he will have to draw it in the mountains.
If he catches yellow early in the race and can maintain consistent performance throughout the opening week, then overall victory is not entirely out of the question. However, the hunting in stages and the short time in the yellow jersey seems a more likely prospect for Alaphilippe this summer.
A rising star
With Pinot still struggling with back problems and almost certainly expected to miss the Tour de France this year, having already put an end to his ambitions for the Giro d’Italia, Gaudu should become the leader of Groupama-FDJ for the Big loop.
Gaudu has been trained as a GC star since he joined FDJ at the age of 20 in 2017. Pinot’s struggles have pushed him into the limelight faster than he could have been. wait, but he has taken the strain so far.
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Since making his Grand Tour debut at the 2018 Tour de France, Gaudu’s overall performance has steadily improved with a peak of eight overall during last year’s Vuelta a España. A result which was accompanied by two impressive stage victories over the Alto de la Farrapona and the Alto de la Covatilla.
He competed in last year’s Tour de France, but dropped out on Stage 16 after struggling for two weeks with a sacral injury he sustained during the Stage 1 crash-fest. having crossed the top 10 for the first time at La Vuelta, Gaudu should take it to another level this year.
It looks like the 24-year-old has taken a leap forward in his performances at the start of this season.
Despite a slight wobble at Paris-Nice during his fall on the last stage, Gaudu accumulated a series of good results, with a victory in the Faun-Ardèche Classic one-day event, a fifth in the general classification and a stage victory at the Itzulia Basque. Country, third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and ninth overall in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.
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Given his recent form, Gaudu looks to be on track for a career best lap at the Tour de France later this month. His previous record was 13th in 2019.
Like many French competitors in the general classification lately, one of Gaudu’s main sticking points is the time trial. With two fairly flat courses this year, he will have to work hard to limit his losses in the time trial.
A podium spot and a race for the final yellow jersey seem like a much more likely prospect for Gaudu than for Alaphilippe, but even then it seems like a step too far for the young Frenchman. A top-five performance would be a great result for Gaudu, and another big step forward to ultimately win this big prize.
The French riders may not be among the big favorites for the yellow jersey in Paris, but they have great potential for success in their grand home tour. With Alaphilippe and Gaudu, there is a host of riders who could offer them a stage victory over the three weeks.