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“Right now, I am focusing more on winning the white jersey,” Bardet said. “I am only 23, and it’s clear that Nibali is the strongest, with three stage wins, so I am going to stay calm, take it stage by stage, but fig...

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DECATHLON AG2R LA MONDIALE

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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JEAN-CHRISTOPHE PÉRAUD

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ROMAIN BARDET

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THIBAUT PINOT

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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20.07.2014 @ 08:30 Posted by Aleksandra Górska

Despite several victories claimed on legendary climbs, mid-race stints in the most coveted jersey in cycling and countless brave attacks, consecutive generations of promising French riders for years were failing to live up to high expectations and provide their countrymen with a true excitement when it came to the rivalry in the Tour de France general classification. However, apparently all significant elements have finally fallen into place during the 101st edition of la Grande Boucle, as no less than three host country representatives stand in front of a serious opportunity to break the draught and become the first Frenchman to finish on the podium since Richard Viranque in 1997.

 

It takes much more than a pure talent to shine in the biggest spectacle in cycling which certainly is the Tour de France, but unexpected withdrawals of pre-race favorites Chris Froome (Team Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) created entirely new opportunities for the group of riders initially regarded as top ten contenders and after two weeks of competition the French trio seems most capable of turning such twist of fortune into success.

 

The most experienced Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r L Mondiale), the only general classification contender who managed to keep up with race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in the final climb to Risoul yesterday, is also one of the best time trialists amost the current top ten riders, so his 1:18 time loss to the third place seems insignificant ahead of the testy ride against the clock on the penultimate day, if he manages to maintain his disposition in the Pyrenees.

 

The remaining duo made of Peraud’s team mate Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), proud representatives of raising generation of young French riders is currently more engaged into their fight for a victory in the young riders classification, with the former currently keeping the 16 seconds advantage over the latter.

 

While both are perfectly aware that the long time trial on the penultimate day doesn’t play in their favour, they agreeably admitted that their chances against rouleurs like Tejay Van Gerderen (BMC), Richie Porte (Team Sky) or Peraud lied in aggressive riding in the mountains.

“Right now, I am focusing more on winning the white jersey,” Bardet told VeloNews. “I am only 23, and it’s clear that Nibali is the strongest, with three stage wins, so I am going to stay calm, take it stage by stage, but fight all the way to the end.”

 

“(Tejay) van Garderen is very good against the clock,” Bardet said. “If we hope to have real podium chances, we’ll have to carry a good gap into the final time trial. Anyway, it’s too far to think that far ahead. Every day is hard in the Tour, and we’ve seen that anything can happen.”

 

“Nibali is very strong, but maybe the podium is accessible,” Pinot told French TV before the start of Saturday’s stage. “If I can keep having good legs in the mountains, perhaps the podium is within reach. That is what we are aiming for.”

 

"It’s good news that a rouleur like Porte lost a lot of time today but on the other hand you still have guys like [Tejay] van Garderen and [Jean-Christophe] Péraud who are close behind and strong in the time trial," Pinot said after Friday’s stage.

 

"I’d say I had normal legs today, but I managed to make it harder all the same. I needed to make a move here and try something against my rivals for a place in the top five or on the podium."

 

"There wasn’t great understanding with Valverde and that made it harder to get the biggest gap possible on the riders behind us," Pinot said. "It cost us time. We wouldn’t have caught Nibali but we would have gained more time on the rest."

 

Rivalry between young fellow countrymen finally attracted biggest interest of French media and cycling enthusiasts and even though the race leader Nibali appears to be untouchable, a podium result seems to be the most attainable since many disappointing years.

 

Pinot, however, quietly downplayed the idea of a French duel in the days ahead. "No, you can only call something a duel when it’s for winning the Tour, or for stage wins. We’re just battling for places," Pinot said.

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