Julien Simon (Sojasun) became the fifth Frenchmen to have been awarded the "Prix de la combativité", for the most aggressive rider, in Lyon following a late solo attack, after Europcar's Jérôme Cousin (stage 1 and stage 10), Blel Kadri on stage 2 and Romain Bardet on stage 9. But the Breton rider was hardly consoled by the red dossard after failing to reverse a French drought on stage victories.
Two thirds of the way through the race, the popularity of the Tour de France is seemingly not related to the results of the riders from the hosting country, and the crowds look bigger and bigger every day. While Pierre Rolland leads the King of the Mountain competition and Jean-Christophe Péraud stands in ninth place overall, the media laments the absence of a stage victory in the first fourteen stages,
"Till the very end, I've believed I could win," Simon said at the finish. "This was the stage I wanted to win. I had marked it for a while. I knew the finale pretty well. I paid attention. When I saw David Millar and co. going away, I was feeling not too bad, so I went with them. In the second last climb, I also didn't feel too bad. I accelerated and I insisted when I realized I made a gap. When [Orica-GreenEdge's Michael] Albasini joined me, I bluffed a little bit. Until 300 metres to go, I was happy with the situation but when I got passed, it didn't matter whether I'd finish fifth or sixth, or further down."
For 14 kilometers, Simon gave the impression that he could win stage 14 to Lyon. "He gave everything, it was fantastic," his fellow compatriot Bernard Hinault commented. "He dared to do it. It's always possible to re-write the race and say that he should have waited for the sprint, but he deserves credit for having tried something."
"I'm also a fast finisher," admitted Simon who won five races that way last year, including two stages of the Volta a Catalunya. "But I seized the opportunity. I'm often reproached for not trying enough, so I told [Sojasun directeur sportif] Nicolas Guillé that I'd do whatever according to my feelings. It was my decision to attack. We're a small team, however we've got some experience."
Confidence is the big question when the 27-year-old from Lamballe gets mentioned. His strength is well known, especially in slightly uphill finishes. But he's always described by his staff as someone who doesn't believe in himself. For a while, his nickname in the team was "c'est baisé" (it's fucked) because he often said so and gave up when he missed opportunities.
One year ago, Simon crashed in stage 1 of the first Tour de France he took part in, and put himself in a downward spiral. This time around, it's the opposite. He came out of Corsica in second place overall, only one second down on yellow jersey wearer Jan Bakelants who was again with him the breakaway en route to Lyon. On his home stage from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, he took part in the breakaway again.
"The Mont Ventoux is not for me," he said. "Tuesday (stage 16 to Gap) is my last chance. Afterwards, it's game over." French riders might end up with no stage win but they'll keep trying. And the crowds look happy anyway.