Asking Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) to compare his current condition to that of 12 months ago is almost an irrelevance - given in February 2016 he was recovering from an appalling crash during a training camp that poleaxed the Breton and five of his teammates. As he tells Cyclingnews with a wry grin, “I’m much better, thanks.”
Last year at this time, Barguil was nursing fractured scaphoid in his wrist, the result of the crash that occurred when a British woman driving on the wrong side of the road in Spain ploughed into Barguil and his teammates. The Frenchman did not start racing until the Volta a Catalunya in late March. He finished 23rd at the Tour de France, but the Vuelta a España did not go well - he was the first rider of the race to abandon with illness. He ended the season on a high note with an eighth place in Il Lombardia - a steady progression in the race after a 47th in 2013, 36th in 2014 and 20th in 2015.
Given that run of results, as well as a 15th place in Amstel Gold Race, 6th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and 9th in La Flèche Wallonne in 2016 - collectively his best results by far in the Ardennes - it’s surely no coincidence that Barguil is focused on improving his Classics performances in 2017, rather than thinking too much about the Grand Tours.
“For me, these are the first big targets of the season, together with the Vuelta al País Vasco,” Barguil, currently running 12th in the Ruta del Sol, told a small group of reporters. “As for the summer” - where he has refused to confirm or deny rumours that he will be focusing on the stage wins rather than the overall in the Tour - “we’ll see what happens when I get to the Dauphiné
“The Tour has got a good route overall for me,” he added. “OK, there aren’t so many uphill finishes, but there are enough.”
He may, he says, return to the Vuelta a España, where he took two breakthrough stage wins in 2013 - one at the Formigal ski station.
As for his start to the season at the Rutal del Sol, Barguil took 10th place in the opening stage of the race, and 15th on the stage 2 summit finish after briefly opening fire on the final ascent to Mancha Real.
“It wasn’t an easy start to my first race of the year, the stage one finish had a tough climb and it was a hard way of getting your legs moving, but I did all right,” he recounted.
“I did some good training this winter, but I didn’t want to be absolutely at the top of my form in these early races, so as a way of getting into my race pace, this wasn’t so bad. I went at my own pace on the [stage 1] climb, took things fairly steady and had a good start to the descent. Then I was in the first group behind the Valverde/Contador group, and we were only a little bit off the pace.”
After the Ruta del Sol, Barguil’s next race will be Paris-Nice, followed by a short break, then onto the Vuelta al País Vasco, and the Classics - the first key part of the season.