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Former top French professional Charly Mottet has hailed the strong performances of his compatriots in this year’s race, saying that he hopes France can take its first overall Tour win within the next few years.
The 2014 edition has seen a number of strong performances by home riders. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Jean Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet (both Ag2r La Mondiale) have been amongst the strongest riders in the mountains and, after the final Pyrenean stage, are sitting second, third and fifth overall.
In addition to that, Pinot and Bardet are first and second in the best young rider competition, and both Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol) picked up stage wins.
“It is good news for French cycling, of course. And also for Ag2r La Mondiale, Europcar and FDJ.fr, because there is a good system for the young riders,” Mottet told CyclingTips prior to stage 18.
“We don’t forget also that Froome fell and also Contador, and Quintana is not here. So we have three for the podium, it is more easy to do well.”
Even though those riders expect to take part again next year, Mottet predicts that a changing of the guard is coming. “I think Froome and Contador have probably two years more as real favourites, I think, for the next Tours. Don’t forget also Quintana. It will be very exciting in the next years on the Tour de France. But the young riders are pushing hard now.”
Mottet was one of France’s best professionals of the 1980s, winning three stages in the Tour de France and netting fourth overall in 1987, clocking up stage wins in the Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia, and also taking second overall in the latter.
He shone in other races too, registering wins in the Giro di Lombardia, the Tour de Romandie plus three editions of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
Mottet remains involved in cycling and is working for the company Orange during this year’s Tour.
Asked if he believed that within the next five years France would have its first Tour winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985, he preferred to be more optimistic than that timeframe.
“I hope it is before,” he smiled. “ Now we know we have very good young riders with Pinot, Bardet, and also for the sprint, I think, with Demare and Bouhanni also. It will be exciting cycling in the next years.”
This year’s race has been a very aggressive one, with some gripping mountain racing. Nibali has been far ahead of the others, but the riders fighting for the podium have had very good tussles between them.
“When the big boss of the pack is not here, it is more easy to attack and to manage the race,” reasoned Mottet. “It is a very, very good race for the Frenchmen, they take good initiative. We are a good pressure in the race.”
The obvious question is why the country’s riders have performed so well. Some have wondered if the biological passport could be a factor, with the system helping to make things more equitable.
Following the Festina Affair in 1998, those from that country had regular medical testing to monitor their parameters. While not quite the same as the UCI’s biological passport, which was introduced years later, the testing gave teams and cycling authorities ways to monitor the competitors and push for cleaner racing.
In addition to that, French laws against doping plus police investigations such as the Cofidis Affair were an additional deterrent.
Some felt that this put French riders at a competitive disadvantage. A term for this was coined, namely ‘Cyclisme a Deux Vitesses.’
One line of thinking is that as the sport became cleaner with the widespread introduction of biological passport testing, that the competitive disadvantage lessened and French riders were better able to compete with their international rivals.
Mottet believes this is one factor in how the French riders have performed this year. “I think this is the case,” he said. “I believe the three last years were like this, when Wiggins won, when Froome won, and when Cadel Evans won. I think new cycling began in the years before, because you had a good arm [weapon] for that with the passport and the regular controls. You can’t miss this aspect, it is very, very important.
“Now cycling works very hard with the riders, with the teams, with the organisation. Everybody does this job very conscientiously and now I think you have good results.”