Philippa York spent the recent Tour de Romandie with Cyclingnews, producing a series of articles and podcasts. Here, she catches up with French time trial champion, and the nation’s next big hope, Pierre Latour.
Now in his fourth year as a professional, AG2R La Mondiale’s Pierre Latour has steadily risen to the forefront of French cycling. Quite often in the past, young hopefuls have been burdened by the expectations of a nation waiting for the next Bernard Hinault or Jacques Anquetil.
France has a proud history of Grand Tour winners, but managing the pressure of being labelled a future champion hasn’t always been easy for riders – such as Jean-François Bernard or Laurent Jalabert – who at an early age have been labelled as potential Tour de France winners.
Philippa York: You’ve twice won the young-rider competition at the Tour de Romandie; this is obviously a race you like.
Pierre Latour: It’s often the race that brings the first part of my season to a close, after which I have a short break. There’s a time trial, hills… There’s a bit of everything, so it’s a race that suits me.
PY: Do you treat this race as an indication of your form heading into the big stage races?
PL: Yes – you have to be in form here if you’re hoping to be good for the coming races. It’s a good test to be able to perform here over the week as it’s disputed at a high level.
PY: Were you surprised to win the French time trial title last year, and has that put you under more pressure?
PL: I knew it was possible to win it, and I was in great form. And I find that it motivates me even more now that I’m the TT national champion: I want to do well. It pushes me to try harder.
PY: In the past young, French riders who have done well have immediately been compared to previous greats like Hinault or Jalabert. Do you feel the weight of that expectation?
PL: No – not at all. I have Romain Bardet in the team, and he absorbs all that media interest – which means I can stay relaxed.
PY: Bardet is three years older than you. Is he someone you look up to as an example?
PL: Romain has different characteristics; we aren’t built the same. He races differently, and we have different characters. Romain does everything 100 per cent: his diet, training, lifestyle. I’m still learning, trying to find out what suits me – particularly when it comes to nutrition. I pay a lot of attention to what he does, and I try to copy him. In terms of my development as a rider, it’s really useful.
PY: You weren’t at the recent Ardennes races. Why not?
PL: I developed a sore knee after Pais Vasco. I was probably a bit tired after racing so hard at the Volta a Catalunya, and I think I tried to compensate for that tiredness by using bigger gears than I normally would, which hurt my knee. Usually I would have ridden Flèche Wallonne, and it was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t, but it was good to get back to racing again here at Romandie.
PY: Was missing Flèche Wallonne a problem?
PL: Yes – it’s a race I like, and with it being a little shorter [than some of the other Classics], I’ve done well there before. I find the longer distances a bit difficult in the early season. I prefer Flèche to Liège-Bastogne-Liège: it’s shorter and more explosive. That suits me better.
PY: Vincent Lavenu, AG2R’s team manager, is known for developing riders from his local Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Is that something that you hoped to be a part of as a youngster growing up there?
PL: Absolutely. And later I followed their development course and was included in their under-23 programme at the training centre.
PY: On Twitter you often sign your tweets #dromepower…
PL: (Laughs) There are a few of us on the team from the Drôme department. There’s Axel Domont and me, and we did have Guillaume Bonnafond, who’s now at Cofidis. We’re a little group of friends, so #dromepower is our hashtag!
PY: What does your programme look like after Romandie?
PL: I’ll have a bit of a rest, and then we have a training camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. After that, I’ll do the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and then the national championships. And hopefully I’ll then do the Tour de France.
PY: Do you think you’re capable of winning both the road and TT titles at the national championships?
PL: I’m riding both events, so we’ll see. If I could win just one of them, that would be great.
PY: It’s special to ride in a national champion’s jersey – especially in France. Have you felt that over this past year as the TT champion?
PL: Absolutely, and my first race in the jersey was the Düsseldorf prologue at last year’s Tour. The impact it had on me was immediate: people knew who I was, shouted support. It was really special – not just for me, but for my family and friends, too. It was really motivating, although it seemed strange at first that people knew my name.
PY: You’ve finished two Grand Tours now, around 30th position each time [29th at the 2017 Tour and 28th at the 2016 Vuelta]. Do you expect to be able to improve on that this year?
PL: We’ll see. I’ll certainly do my best. At last year’s Tour I was in the top 20 going into the third week, but it was really tough, and I crashed in the TT, finishing the Tour with a broken hip. This year, I hope to be stronger again, and hope to be able to help Romain get on the podium again – or better.
PY: You feel you’ve progressed, then?
PL: Definitely. I’ve stepped up a level. I’m looking at my career as a series of steps, going up little by little. I’m improving for sure. Last year I wasn’t capable of a podium at the Volta a Catalunya, so slowly but surely I’m getting stronger.