Along with the likes of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) is tipped as one France's best prospects of Grand Tour success in the future. Cyclingnews sat down with the young Frenchman at his team’s Ardennes basecamp. A year after controversially missing out on Tour de France selection, Barguil is chomping at the bit to make his debut at his home race.
"I'm really excited because the Tour starts in Holland which is really important for the team and then afterwards we go through Brittany. It's my home and it's really important," Barguil told Cyclingnews. "Everybody has told me that it is completely different. Each year I look at the Tour de France on the TV and soon I will be at the start and I will be able to enjoy this atmosphere."
As a promising young French rider, there will be a lot of attention Barguil when he lines up in Utrecht on July 4. There hasn't been a home Tour winner since Bernard Hinault's last victory in 1985 and, after seeing two men grace the podium last year, the excitement will be at fever pitch in 2015. It will be a big learning curve for Barguil but the team will be keen not to put too much pressure on the shoulders of the 23-year-old, with sprinters Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb the focus of their ambitions.
"The plan is to do it a bit like my first Vuelta, to learn about this Grand Tour, because it is totally different to the Giro or the Vuelta," Barguil explained. "We won't focus on the GC because we will focus on the sprint and I don't have five guys to help me for the GC and in the Tour if you don't have five guys with you then it is not possible.
"If after the first stages I am still up there then I can maybe try for the GC but it's not the goal, that is to learn and if after the first week I'm still here then maybe we will try."
Learning the hard way
Last season, the team opted to send Barguil to the Vuelta a España to gain more Grand Tour experience, worried that sending him to the biggest race on the calendar – with the added pressure of being a home rider – could hamper his development. The Frenchman put in a solid performance at the race, securing eighth place overall in what turned out to be an extremely strong field. Barguil was understandably disappointed not to find his name on the list for the Tour but with the benefit of hindsight he feels it was the right choice.
"I think in the end it was a better thing," he said. "It was good to do the Vuelta, to be the leader and to understand how to be a leader for three weeks. It's different because every day you have to be at 100 per cent and be careful on everything, sleeping, drinking and recovering. Ok, you might not win but you have to do all of that."
Barguil has already begun his preparations for La Grande Boucle, heading to northern France two days before Paris-Roubaix to take a look at the pavé sectors that will feature in this year's race. "It's terrible," he laughed. "I didn't do all the pavé of the Tour but it was already painful. I did all the sectors full gas to see how I reacted and it was really nice to do it. It was really important because we can't imagine when people say that the pavé is hard you have to feel how it is."
Barguil has more imminent priorities before the Tour, namely Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege this week. After taking a break following the Vuelta a Catalunya, Barguil tested his legs at his first ever Amstel Gold Race. It was a stressful day out but Barguil is happy with his form ahead of his two big goals.
"It wasn't easy to re-start after three weeks without racing but in the end it was good and I could help the team. I'm happy to see my level after a long three weeks without racing," said Barguil. "I made a big step in long climbs but we didn't see the result because I didn't do a lot of races. I did Paris-Nice and I crashed and then I had some bad luck in Catalunya with a crash on the descent. I really feel that on the long climbs I can push more watts and I am more able to play at the end on the last climb."
Barguil will be sole leader of Giant-Alpecin at Flèche while Tom Dumoulin will share the leadership at Liege next Sunday. Both races have altered their courses with Flèche adding the Côte de Cherave just over five kilometres from the finish on the Mur de Huy, while Liege has had 10 kilometres cut from its route to bring the crucial climbs much closer together in the finish.
"It's better for me if you have a really tough race," explained Barguil. "I hope that this year it is a more attacking Liege.
"Not like before where you have 40 at the bottom in Ans. Normally in Liege you don't have that. I would really like to have the Liege of 10 years ago where you only have four guys and after two then one, it's more of this kind of race that I like."