On the face of it, the 2011 Tour de France was a very successful one for French riders and teams, with Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) spending ten days in yellow, his teammate Pierre Rolland winning the white jersey and an historic stage win, and five Frenchmen finishing in the top 15 in Paris. But not all French riders and team managers were satisfied with the outcome.
FDJ team manager Marc Madiot put it bluntly. "I'd be happy if we'd won a stage, but we didn't," he told Cyclingnews after the final time trial in Grenoble. "I can't be satisfied."
Known for speaking his mind, Madiot praised the performance of his young rider Arnold Jeannesson, who finished in 15th place on GC at 25 years of age, but still maintained that a stage victory would have been more important. "Yes, Jeannesson's result is promising, but you have to win a bit more. Last year, there were six French stage victories and no placing on general classification. This year, it's the opposite..."
FDJ's Jérémy Roy, who was voted most aggressive rider of the whole race, was very close to that goal on stage 13 to Lourdes but Garmin-Cervélo's Thor Hushovd and David Moncoutié (Cofidis) came back to him in the finale. Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer, whose rider was much criticised by the French press for having collaborated with Hushovd in the chase, also didn't achieve his objectives at the Tour but said that the criticism of Moncoutié had been disproportionate.
"David didn't ride to make Jérémy lose, he rode to win the stage,” Boyer said. “Thor was just much stronger than him and even if he hadn't taken turns, Thor would have probably won the stage anyway.”
Moncoutié, who came back to the Tour after a year of absence, wanted to contend for the mountains jersey which he has won three times at the Vuelta a España, but he did not make an impact in the classification.
"His ambition was to win a mountain stage and take the polka dot jersey. But he's not 20 years old anymore, he's 36," Boyer explained when asked about the reasons for this failure. "In Lourdes, when he got second, he had a hard time distancing Thor Hushovd on the climb. Earlier in his career, he would have just jumped away, taking three or four minutes on Hushovd and won the stage solo."
Fortunately, Cofidis had young gun Rein Taaramae, who fought against Pierre Rolland for the white jersey. In the end, the Europcar rider edged him out, Boyer believes that Taaramae still has a bright future ahead of him.
"Taaramae finished 12th on the overall classification at just 24 years of age! He will still contend for the white jersey next year, and in two or three years, he will be at the start of the Tour de France to aim at the podium," he predicted.
Heulot builds around Coppel
The fifth French team at this year's Tour, Professional Continental squad Saur-Sojasun, may not have raced in the limelight much at all but team manager Stéphane Heulot was still very happy with the outcome.
"Our objective was to have a rider in the top 15, and Jérôme Coppel achieved just that," Heulot said. "We seized all the opportunities the Tour gave us and showed ourselves several times in front. To me, the conclusion is positive and honourable taking into account our means, rallying riders that don't have any experience on this level."
Saur-Sojasun is only in the second year of its existence as a team, and the squad included six riders that raced the Tour for the first time.
“Of course, you can always hope for more. Like many teams, the next logical step is the stage win, but we are also really happy with Jérôme Coppel's top 15 placing," Heulot continued.
"This race doesn't compare to anything else, it's another dimension. Anthony Delaplace is the youngest rider at this Tour at 21 years, and he showed some prowess. I think we have built up a good basis for the future."
Assisting young talent has been one of Heulot's main goals these past few years. In 2005 and 2006, this year's best young rider at the Tour Pierre Rolland was part of the Frenchman's Super Sport 35 team.
"This proves that we are not that far behind," Heulot added. "Our objective in the future will be to improve Coppel's overall placing, and to give better armour to our squad in order to help him do that."
The French media are always keen to see French riders succeed at the Tour, and quick to criticise the teams when results are deemed insufficient. Irishman Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) supported his French colleagues, putting things into perspective.
"At the Tour, it's the best 198 riders in the world at a 100 percent over three weeks. What would be unbalanced would be to see 25 champions from France. It's normal - there is no domination from one nation or the other," Roche explained.