Tag Archives: French cycling

Fitting win for Barguil; Stalemate on the podium

Barguil in polka-dots wins on the Izoard (Getty Images Sport)

It was the last chance saloon for the climbers. A last opportunity to try and take time from Chris Froome before Saturday’s time-trial. A final battle between Louis Meintjes and Simon Yates in the white jersey contest. One last chance to stop Warren Barguil’s claim on the polka-dot jersey. And the little matter of someone winning the stage.

This was a stage race within the race in which there were many mini-races taking place. Once they hit the final climb of the Col d’Izoard, you didn’t know where to look. There was always something going on. It was the first time the race has finished up this Alpine Giant and you have to wonder why it took so long? It was a brute and it wore the very best down to exhaustion.

Continue reading Fitting win for Barguil; Stalemate on the podium


Le Tour review: Alternative standings – the boy band, the French and the Lanterne Rouge

Back on each rest day I had looked at three alternative, unofficial standings to see how they were playing out. Here then at the end of the Tour is those three categories and who came out on top. Sadly no jerseys awarded!

‘The boy band’:

1. Chris Froome in 84h 46′ 14″

2. Nairo Quintana @ 1′ 12″

4. Vincenzo Nibali @ 8′ 36″

5. Alberto Contador @ 9′ 48″

Well the man who felt they should be known as the five-piece boy-band and not the ‘big four’ or ‘fab-four’ as they had been known coming into the Tour, Tejay Van Garderen, was the only one who failed to make it to Paris, falling ill on the first day in the Alps when placed strongly. Vincenzo Nibali muscled his way back in over the same mountain range and ended up ahead of Contador in the pecking order. But as close as they came to fulfilling their prophecy as the ‘big four’, Alejandro Valverde finished in third overall and replaced the departed Van Garderen in the band of five.

The Frenchmen:

Not just a list of the top Frenchmen, but the Frenchmen many believed might have a crack at a top 10 placing overall before the Tour, in particular those young bucks from last year and Warren Barguil riding his first Tour. At the last time of writing, Barguil was the best of them with Tony Gallopin as the surprise package. On the other hand Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot were struggling to live up to the expectations put on them from last years strong rides. So how did they finish?

1. Romain Bardet (9th overall @ 16′ 00″)

2. Pierre Rolland @ 1′ 30″ (10th @ 17′ 30″)

3. Warren Barguil @ 15′ 15″ (14th @ 31′ 15″)

4. Thibaut Pinot @ 22′ 52″ (16th @ 38′ 52″)

5. Alexis Vuillermoz @ 1h 19′ 6″ (25th @ 1h 35′ 6″)

6. Tony Gallopin @ 1h 24′ 44″ (31st @ 1h 40′ 44″)

7. Jean-Christophe Peraud @ 2h 19′ 10″ (58th @ 2h 35′ 10″)

Well the final week of the Tour was a good one for the young Frenchmen with Bardet riding superbly to win himself a stage and only lose a collective 2min 50sec on Froome over the Alps. He leapt to the top of my ‘selective French standings’ ahead of Pierre Rolland who himself got in several breaks. Indeed, Rolland was the best of the lot across all the mountains. Beyond the first rest day when the race entered the first high mountains of the Tour, only Nairo Quintana (-47sec) and Alejandro Valverde (3min 35sec) lost (or gained) less time to Chris Froome than Pierre Rolland who over 7 mountain stages and 12 in total conceded just 5min 47sec to the eventual champion. Thibaut Pinot also won himself a stage on Alpe d’Huez though he couldn’t quite overhaul Barguil who finished third on this list. Tony Gallopin fell away in the end while Alexis Vuillermoz had a solid Tour to go with his stage win on the first week. As for Jean-Christophe Peraud, after coming second last year, it was a race to forget. He had a bad crash and it left him limping around at the back of the field into Paris.

Lanterne Rouge:

The Lanterne Rouge; the last man in the race. That went to another Frenchman, Sebastian Chavenel, who came home 4hrs 56min 59sec behind Froome. It may seem to an outsider as an (unofficial) award that no man would want, but in cycling there’s a honour to it. Sure you were last, but you made it. You suffered on the edge of time elimination through the mountains and survived. 38 others climbed off their bikes between Utrecht and Paris, but you finished it. Indeed, there can even be financial rewards via invites to the post-Tour criterium circuit.

160. Sébastien Chavanel (FDJ) @ 4h 56′ 59″ to Froome

159. Svein Tuft (OGE) @ 8′ 51″

158. Kenneth Van Bilsen (COF) @ 15′ 32″

157. Bryan Nauleau (EUC) @ 16′ 47″

156. Matthias Brandle (IAM) @ 19′ 23″

155. Davide Cimolai (LAM) @ 23′ 38″

Sam Bennett who looked on to win this contest, abandoned the Tour on stage 17 passing the Lanterne Rouge to the bike of Sébastien Chavanel. Svein Tuft, previous winner of this contest finished in 2nd, while Bryan Nauleau leapt up into the top 3 come Paris.

Froome goes to the limit to win the Tour…Pinot rescues his Tour on the most iconic of mountains

Stage 20: Modane > Alpe d’Huez, 110.5km

It was a stage of two parts. Not a split stage like those from the 1980s, but rather a stage in which two stories were written. The first was the very sudden realisation that perhaps this Tour was not over and that at last the Yellow jersey appeared to be in trouble, with a seemingly won and lost Tour up for grabs on the most iconic climb in the race and the final climb at that. The second was the race to actually win on that iconic climb as a young Frenchman timed his moment of redemption on this years Tour to perfection, much to the joy of his adoring home nation.

When Thibaut Pinot was seen standing on the cobbles of northern France almost three weeks ago, throwing his arms in the air in frustration that a mechanical was sending his Tour dreams up with the dust that surrounded him, it looked as though he might just quit there and then. It might have been the easy thing to do. Likewise on stage 17 when, having long since turned to hunting for stage wins, he crashed on the descent of the Col d’Allos. A younger version of himself might well have folded and rode anonymously into Paris but last years high finish has clearly given him a deep belief in his ability and the 25 year old Frenchman gutted it out and continued to hunt, until today, when on the grandest stage of all at Alpe d’Huez, he got his win.

It was a superb ride by Pinot. He shook off the rest of his breakaway companions, the last of which was the always gritty, always strong Ryder Hesjedal, and soloed to a win by 18sec over a fast charging man on a mission, Nairo Quintana.

From the top of the first mountain of the Tour to the foot of the last, Chris Froome winning this years Tour de France has seemed a foregone conclusion with everyone else either fighting to maintain a podium place or a position in the top ten. Either they seemed incapable of distancing the Sky rider or, dare I say, unwilling to attempt it at the risk of blowing their own position.

Nairo Quintana, who had entered the mountain stages nearly two minutes behind Froome and then lost more time on that first mountain stage, had spent the better part of the past week making small attempts to shake Froome only to find himself consolidating his podium position by dropping most others but with Froome always close by.

That isn’t to say there were signs that Froome was beginning to look tired; no longer was he initiating the major moves, but even yesterday Quintana only managed to pull back a mere 30sec when he finally shed himself of Froome, leaving Froome still 2min 38sec to the good with just this final stage to go. But nobody wins the Tour without some kind of adversity, and while Froome has faced a lot of his from the actions of some idiot fans, on the bike he was, at last, about to get a taste of adversity courtesy of the little Colombian.

There was only two climbs here and the first on the Col de la Croix de Fer was too far out as Quintana found out when he briefly attacked only to sit up on the descent. With a long ride along the valley to the Alpe, it would have been madness for Quintana to push on. It appeared too late for Quintana, just as it had been each time a day ticked by with Froome still in a commanding lead, and so with only the Alpe remaining, focus was already fully upon who from the early break off the front might win the stage itself.

In the end it was too late, but for a short while, Froome appeared to be in real trouble. Quintana attacked early on the Alpe and nobody reacted. Froome watched him go, but this time there was no holding his power threshold and slowly bridging back across. This time the gap continued to open until which times Quintana was no longer on the same stretch of road between hairpin bends.

The gap grew to 30 seconds and it held around there for a while as Froome sat on the wheels of his super domestique, turned bodyguards, Wout Poels and Richie Porte. The last act of Porte in service to his captain before moving away from Sky at the end of the season would be to try and save the Yellow jersey for the Sky leader.

As the crowds swarmed and the threat of attack loomed, the Sky duo in front of Froome powered their way through, the crowds moving back just in time as the clock on the top of our TV screens continued to tick upwards and up over a minute. Froome was in trouble, with several kilomtres still remaining, the Tour appeared to be slipping away.

Everyone was scrambling to do the maths in their heads. How much could Froome afford to lose now and how many kilometres were left? Was he keeping something in the bag…riding to a level he knew he could maintain without losing enough time? Or was he on his limit…starting to panic as the time gap continued to rise and the legs refused to react? He wasn’t looking any stronger as the hairpin bends were counted off, and what if he suddenly cracked?

Behind the Team Sky bus paced Sir Dave Brailsford, going through all these emotions with the sane side of his brain telling him that the allowable gap versus the distance remaining left a power requirement of Froome that he could surely manage. The other side of his brain was remining him (and all of us) of the human element of the Tour in which sometimes power numbers, data, stats and everything else could become irrelevant when troubles come and all that stood between you and the glory was the desire to suffer that little bit more, to find the strength to hang on.

Into the final kilometre and Brislford could begin to relax. Quintana hadn’t gained enough. That moment in which it looked like we were witnessing one of the greatest comebacks/collapses in Tour history was fading. Quintana finished and 1min 20sec later, so to did Froome. He looked to the clock, a look of a man that didn’t have it all under control after all, but took note that he had won the Tour by a mere 1min 12sec; a figure nobody could have imagined his lead dropping to when the day began.

Quintana will surely question his bad timing today. A little too late to overhaul Froome for the Tour win and a little too late to overhaul Pinot for the stage win and he will head home as the winner of the young rider competition, but empty handed without a stage victory unlike those two men who got in his way overall and for the stage. That said, he will win stages and should win himself a Tour one day, and what he did perhaps do was prove himself as the finest climber in the world, one who stays strong over the course of a three week race. It will have left him and his fans wondering what if regarding that treacherous first week where on stage two in the cross-winds he lost 1min 28sec to Froome, more than which he has now lost the Tour by.

Of course, for Froome he has proven to have timed this Tour to perfection. You can say ‘what if’ there had been another mountain today, or another mountain stage tomorrow, but there wasn’t and there isn’t and Froome stands in Yellow. And while Quintana can say he lost the Tour in the winds of Holland, Froome could also point to that first mountain stage to La Pierre-Saint-Martin where, with the stage win, he put 1min 14sec (including the 10sec time bonus) into Quintana, 2sec more than that he won the Tour by.

In the end though, the best man always wears Yellow in Paris and Froome has proven himself to be the best across the entire three weeks of the route that was put in front of them and not just the four days in the Alps. He’ll ride into Paris tomorrow and baring some kind of unforeseen disaster will win his second Tour in three years and Sky’s third in four.

Result: Classement:
1. Pinot (FDJ) in 3h 17′ 21″

2. Quintana (MOV) +18″

3. Hesjedal (TCG) +41″

4. Valverde (MOV) +1′ 38″

5. Froome (SKY) s.t.

6. Rolland (EUC) +1′ 41″

15. Nibali (AST) +3′ 30″
16. Contador (TCS) s.t.

1. Froome (SKY) in 81h 56′ 33″

2. Quintana (MOV) +1′ 12″

3. Valverde (MOV) +5′ 25″

4. Nibali (AST) +8′ 36″

5. Contador (TCS) +9′ 48″

6. Gesink (TLJ) +10′ 47″

Bardet wins first Tour stage as the race crests the beautiful Lacets de Montvernier

Stage 18: Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, 186.5km
Romain Bardet finished last years Tour in 6th place and as a result the pressure was heaped on him to go one better and crack the top five in 2015. It’s been a mixed Tour for the Frenchman, but it must be remembered that he is only 24 years old and still learning his trade. Today however we seen the best of his potential, not just as a fine climber, but as a fearsome descender. For all the praise heaped on Peter Sagan’s ability to go downhill, Bardet is mightily impressive too and it was both his climbing and descending skills that came to the fore today as he rode 40km alone to take the first stage win of his career. Safe to say it won’t be his last.

The springboard for Bardet’s victory came from a large breakaway group and on the col du Glandon. He attacked near the top, perhaps aware of the time he could then put into the pack on the descent, and never looked back. Jakob Fuglsang had attempted to go with the move but was struck by a motorbike and knocked off, ending his bid for glory.

Bardet led the race over the incredibly scenic Lacets de Montvernier, making its first appearance on the Tour with its 18 hairpin bends in just 3.4km of climbing. A climb that was missed for so many years because race officials thought it to be nothing more than a scenic goat track until now and a climb that was only witnessed by those watching on TV however as no fans were allowed onto it due to its narrow roads and tight turns. To see the crowds we often see on mountain passes on this climb was to understand why it was left barren today. Only small barriers protected the edge of the road from the cliff face and with the road only a little wider than the following team cars, it would have been chaos to stick several thousand fans up there to crowd the riders and then get brushed back by the cars. But it was still magnificent and you can bet that like stage wins for Bardet, we haven’t seen the last of the Montvernier either.

Only 10km and the short descent stood between Bardet and victory in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and he wasn’t going to be denied. Pierre Rolland launched a late bid to try and close the gap but it was too little too late and Rolland had to settle for second, 33 seconds behind, and a French one-two.

The Yellow jersey group came over the Lacets de Montvernier together, the climb almost too short and too tight with not enough road between hairpins to really shake things up, and Chris Froome retained Yellow. He did look to be struggling a little, and only briefly, as they crested the summit but it was the final climb of the day and there was no way to find out if there was anything to it. At least not until tomorrow when they continue into the high Alps though with only two big mountain stages remaining, time is running out for anyone to catch Froome now.

Result: Classement:
1. Bardet (ALM) in 5h 3′ 40″

2. Rolland (EUC) +33″

3. Anacona (MOV) +59″

4. Jungels (TFR)

5. Fuglsang (AST) a.s.t.

6. Pauwels (MTN) +1′ 1″

1. Froome (SKY) in 74h 13′ 31″

2. Quintana (MOV) +3′ 10″

3. Valverde (MOV) +4′ 9″

4. Thomas (SKY) +6′ 34″

5. Contador (TCS) +6′ 40″

6. Gesink (TLJ) +7′ 39″

7. Nibali (AST) +8′ 4″

Rest day 2 musings: Standings of the boy band, the French and the Lanterne Rouge

I want to quickly highlight the status of three competitions. None official, though to win one of them may be to win the Tour. We’ll start with that one.

Coming into this Tour we talked of the ‘big-four’ of Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, but last week the American, Tejay Van Garderen was quick to claim that he deserved to be mentioned along with them and that it was less of a ‘fab-four’ and more a ‘five-piece boyband’. I think Van Garderen, to his shame, mentioned the Backstreet Boys.

So how does this ‘big five’ stack up 16 stages in and on this second rest day with four big mountain stages left?

1. Chris Froome in 64h 47′ 16″

2. Nairo Quintana @ 3′ 10″

3. Tejay Van Garderen @ 3′ 32″

5. Alberto Contador @ 4′ 23″

7. Vincenzo Nibali @ 7′ 49″

Froome is looking solid though four of the five make the top five overall with Alejandro Valverde continuing to infiltrate in fourth place. Given that he is working in service of Quintana and Geraint Thomas (in 6th) is working in service of Froome, it’s not inconceivable that come Paris the ‘fabulious five’ make up the top five places on GC.

Next up is the Frenchmen. Last year the French had their best Tour in years with JC Peraud coming second, Thibaut Pinot third and Romain Bardet sixth. This year they have a single stage win via Alexis Vuillermoz at the Mûr-de-Bretagne and they also have the talented young Warren Barguil racing for a high finish on GC. So how’s it looking?

1. Warren Barguil (10th overall @ 11′ 3″)

2. Tony Gallopin @ 59″ (11th @ 12′ 2″)

3. Romain Bardet @ 2′ 7″ (12th @ 13′ 10″)

4. Pierre Rolland @ 4′ 52″ (15th @ 15′ 55″)

5. Thibaut Pinot @ 20′ 51″ (19th @ 31′ 54″)

6. Alexis Vuillermoz @ 25′ 26″ (20th @ 36′ 29″)

7. Jean-Christophe Peraud @ 1h 13′ 23″ (50th @ 1h 24′ 26″)

Peraud certainly won’t be contending for a podium this year, and Vuillermoz is likely to lose time in the Alps. Gallopin is a big surprise to still be this high up after the Alps and with Bardet, Rolland and Pinot all going stage hunting over the next few days, if not in search of the polka-dot jersey at the same time, expect them to move up in the GC and thus in this list. Barguil has been superb so far and expect him to continue riding strong. It would be a surprise if one or two of those on this list didn’t crack the top 10 overall come Paris. (For what it’s worth, the seven mentioned here aren’t necessarily the best seven Frenchmen on GC but those we might have expected to finish well before the Tour began).

And finally (fittingly!) the race for the Lanterne Rouge. I know there’s a kind of perverse prestige to finishing last on the Tour as it shows you still finished and battled through the mountains and against the time-limit, but I’m not so sure anyone actually tries to finish last. Or perhaps they do, but I might be exaggerating it a little to call it a ‘race’.

Here’s how it’s shaping up, in reverse order naturally and with their time ahead of last place.

169. Sam Bennett

168. Sébastien Chavanel @ 16′ 2″

167. Svein Tuft @ 24′ 53″

166. Bryan Nauleau @ 25′ 10″

165. Michael Matthews @ 29′ 21″

164. Kenneth Van Bilsen @ 31′ 34″

Froome would love a lead like this and if Sam Bennett can suffer over four more days of mountains and fight off time elimination he stands a good chance of becoming the 2015 Lanterne Rouge.

Following the Tour I’ll come back to these three lists and see how it all shook out.

Rest day 1 musings: The alternative unofficial competitions

There are three competitions going on in this Tour that I am watching for a little side interest. One of them, the battle between the ‘big four’ as we’ve been calling it in the lead up to this Tour, will likely define the winner of the Tour itself; another will give us the best Frenchman on the race; and the last will, definitively, show is the slowest man on the road.

We’re at the first rest day so that seems about a good time to take stock and see how each of these competitions are coming along.

‘The big 4’:

1. Chris Froome in 31h 34′ 12″

5. Alberto Contador @ 1′ 3″

9. Nairo Quintana @ 1′ 59″

13. Vincenzo Nibali @ 2′ 22″

It’s been a first week that they could have done without though, perhaps surprisingly, it’s Chris Froome who has come out of it best placed with Contador little more than a minute back. Nairo Quintana lost most of his time on stage 2 in the winds while Nibali, the man we thought might profit most from this first week has consistently lost bits of time. It’s still all to play for but there are others better placed looking to show that this ‘big 4’ was in name only.

The Frenchmen:

1. Warren Barguil (14th overall @ 2′ 43″)

2. Jean-Christophe Peraud @ 47″ (17th @ 3′ 30″)

3. Romain Bardet @ 1′ 55″ (21st @ 4′ 38″)

4. Alexis Vuillermoz @ 4′ 6″ (28th @ 6′ 49″)

5. Thibaut Pinot @ 5′ 22″ (29th @ 8′ 5″)

6. Pierre Rolland @ 9′ 00″ (36th @ 11′ 43″)

I’ve thrown Alexis Vuillermoz into this list as he has actually won a stage and is riding well. It’s unlikely he’ll do too much damage in the mountains when the other five will be expected to shine. The likes of Pinot and Rolland are already looking at stage wins, or perhaps a run at the King of the Mountains prize, while Barguil, Peraud and Bardet will still have designs on a top 10. Perhaps with the pressure now off however, Pinot can find his climbing legs and maintain a steady time-loss to Froome and slowly move up.

Lanterne Rouge:

185. Michael Matthews (OGE) @ 1h 16′ 10″ to Froome

184. Alex Dowsett (MOV) @ 3′ 9″

183. Nicolas Edet (COF) @ 6′ 16″

182. Adam Hansen (LTS) @ 9′ 58″

181. Frédéric Brun (BSE) @ 10′ 10″

180. Svein Tuft (OGE) @ 11′ 53″

It’s still a bit early to look too closely at this competition with all the high mountains to come when the majority of time is lost. Michael Matthews is last on the road as things stand at 1hr 16min 10sec — thanks mostly to the serious injuries he’s been riding with for most of the first week, and likewise Adam Hansen — but the eventual Lanterne Rouge will lose upward of 4 hour to the eventual winner of the Tour so check back later.

Three Frenchmen in the top six…all targeting the podium; it’s a great sign for cycling

With a week left in this Tour de France there are three Frenchmen in the top six; it is something we haven’t seen for years and it raises serious prospects of at least one of them, if not more, making the final podium in Paris. Unfortunately for them there is also Vincenzo Nibali, who at this moment is in complete control of the yellow jersey and baring a disaster of Froome, Contador, or on the road, of Porte proportions, it looks as though only two of the three spots are up for grabs.

It’s three Frenchmen against one American against one Spaniard and ignoring Nibali, here is the top five on GC fighting for second and third.

2. Valverde (Spain)
3. Bardet (France) +13″

4. Pinot (France) +29″
5. Van Garderen (USA) +1’12”
6. Péraud (France) +1’31”

And for what it is worth, another Frenchman, Pierre Rolland is in tenth, 6’11” behind Valverde. It was Rolland whom a few years ago might have been seen as the future hope of French cycling to break what has become a long podium drought, but who has since been overtaken by these three Frenchman in the pecking order…at this tour, at least.

The last time a Frenchman finished in the top three of the Tour de France was Richard Virenque in 1997. Before that was Virenque again in 1996, Laurent Fignon in 1989, Jean-François Bernard in 1987, Bernard Hinault in 1986 and Hinault once more in 1985 when he won it for a fifth time.

Seventeen years. And all of them in the pre-Festina affair era.

It’s widely accepted that post that 1998 scandal, French cycling clamped down on rampant doping within its teams’ structures. The law tightened and the idea became a big no-no among young riders. Of course, there could always have been some taking the risk, but the French moved to the forefront of anti-doping in a way the Spaniards, Italians, Americans and others did not and in doing so they moved to the rear of cycling’s big hitters on the result sheets.

French cycling fans changed from hoping to see a French winner of their Grand Tour to hoping to simply see a stage winner. The hero’s of the likes of Hinault and Fignon were gone and it was plucky stage riders who showed enormous heart and fighting spirit that became the new hero’s of their nation. The likes of Thomas Voeckler.

But the nation has still longed for the day someone would come along and compete again to win the Tour. Note the reaction in France when Voeckler stole all those minutes from a breakaway on stage 9 of the 2011 Tour de France and almost clung on for the victory, losing his yellow jersey to Andy Schleck and then Cadel Evans with just three stages to go. His fighting spirit as he rode in the mountains like he ought not to have, won over the hearts of many, but many knew that it was a fleeting attempt, that Voeckler would never get such a chance again.

Rolland finished 11th that year (later upgraded to 10th when Contador had his result stripped) and won on Alpe d’Huez — the same day Voeckler lost the jersey — and with it came the weight of a nation to push on. He was 24 years of age at the time but since then has only bettered his final overall placing once in 2012 when he finished 8th.

A year later while all eyes were on Rolland, a young 22 year old Thibaut Pinot won a mountain stage to Porrentruy and finished 10th in the GC; second to Tejay Van Garderen in the white jersey competition. Pinot v Van Garderen looked like a prelude to a new rivalry one day for yellow…a flashback to LeMond v Fignon, and which today makes up two of the five going for second and third.

Seeing French cycling on the up again with names like Pinot coming through followed by Bardet, expected to be followed by Warren Barguil — who some think is the most talented of the lot and who won a stage in last years Vuelta aged 21 — is a good sign for cycling. That staunch anti-doping approach by French law and French cycling seen a nation left behind as other nationalities continued to win in a post-Festina affair cycling world.

Now however with the tide in attitudes in the pro-peloton changing, with those cycling clean overtaking the numbers of those cycling dirty and a young wave of talent coming in, French cycling is once again able to compete where maybe it always should have had things been fair. The likes of Bardet and Pinot born a generation later than someone like Christophe Bassons should count themselves fortunate.

And there’s one other in that trio going for the podium that highlights this culture change that has allowed French cycling to thrive again, best: Jean-Christophe Péraud. Unlike Pinot and Bardet, Péraud is an old man of the peloton…37 years of age. A mountain biker who only turned to the road full-time in the 2010 season aged 33, the Frenchman should be slowing down with age but is only getting better.

He was 9th in his first Tour in 2011, fell back to 44th in 2012, but was again sitting 9th in 2013 when a crash on the final time-trial forced him to abandon. He was 3rd in Paris-Nice last year and this year placed 4th in Tirreno-Adriatico, 3rd in the Tour of the Basque Country, 2nd in the Tour Méditerranéen, and 1st in the Critérium International.

Péraud would never have arrived into road cycling in any previous era at that age and been competitive at the front end of races. He certainly would not have landed into a tour ten year ago, even aged 27 and found himself competing for a podium place — as he is in this years Tour — against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich as we now know how they where. The question though isn’t therefore whether he’s getting better, but rather whether everyone else is that little bit more normal? Has a race that would have been impossible for him to win in his prime riding clean — which as a staunch anti-doper, he is — suddenly within reach into his mid-30s?

It may be the best sign of the lot that cycling is improving itself for the good. Some will always cheat but in tackling the issue properly, cycling has opened the door to the French once again and Péraud exemplifies that opportunity, and we’re all the better for it. There are some who believe he could have won the Tour in his pomp had he been racing against a clean field but perhaps for that reason he never made the switch until much later.

That said, it isn’t the swing towards a cleaner sport that has exclusively opened the door to the French again; talent plays a large roll too. French cycling appears to have hit a golden generation and lets hope it works out for them. Péraud may be showing what is possible now, even at his age, but the likes of Pinot, Bardet, Barguil, even Rolland, have the best opportunity to seize it.

This Sunday, all being well, one of Pinot, Bardet or Péraud, or perhaps two of them, will stand on the podium in Paris and the shadow of Virenque will be wiped away at last. A line drawn and a real opportunity for the French and all of us to look forward with serious optimism.