By Tim Maloney, European Editor in London
Since the birth of his daughter Margaux on April 23rd, Christophe Moreau has led a charmed life as a racing cyclist. The 35 year-old from Belfort in eastern France finished fourth in the Volta a Catalunya in June, then took a surprising win in the Dauphiné Libéré with a stage win atop le Mont Ventoux. The momentous ride was followed by great performance in the French Championship, where the long, lean AG2r man was clearly the strongest, and captured the Maillot Tricouleur on a tough course in Aurillac where.
It has been a decade since Richard Virenque was the last French rider on the Tour podium as runner-up at the 1997 Tour de France Moreau could be a factor in this year's race and AG2r team manager Vincent Lavenu told Cyclingnews that, "for the last few years, Christophe has shown a new maturity, and greater focus as a rider than ever before. We have a team that is like a family and we've put less pressure on [Moreau] than he's had in the past and it has worked for him and us."
Moreau was delighted to win his first French championship last month. "It was a special moment for me, a very emotional one too," he explained. "Like my prologue win in 2001, it was truly something special." That year, Moreau won the Tour de France prologue and wore the Maillot Jaune for two stages. He has finished as high as fourth place overall in the Tour in 2000, but never been as much of a Tour contender as he is now.
Smart, experienced and enjoying the best form of his career, a smiling relaxed Moreau told Cyclingnews in London that "this year with the French jersey, I think I might be better known in the peloton. I'm glad to be at the Tour this way. So when the race really starts, on the roads of France, I'll be happy to show the jersey off."
As a former winner of the Tour prologue, Moreau must have ambitions for the short course through central London. "I'll go all out in the prologue for sure," he stated. "I still think of my win in 2001. So I'm looking to check out the course well and then have the best possible performance. I don't think I can win but that I can kick off the party well at this Tour." As for his ambitions for the overall Tour, a realistic Moreau explained, "My form is there and my morale is good and with the French champions jersey and we have a solid AG2r team. So I think I can have a good Tour."
Moreau stated his overall ambitions. "Yes, I've spoken about the Maillot Pois [of Best Climber] as another objective at the Tour as well as a podium place or top five and maybe a stage win. [Our strategy is] in the Alps, we will go all out to see where we are and if the goal of a high finish on the general classification is realistic. Then we can see what our strategy is in the Pyrénées.
"We have to look at the situation day-by-day to see what the possibilities are. Right now, I'm feeling really relaxed. It's my 12th Tour and, more than ever, I am feeling ready. I've had the Maillot Jaune, been top ten and first French rider already, so with my French Champions jersey, what do I have to lose in this Tour? I'm hoping to have the best tour of my career."
(Read Cyclingnew' recent interview with Moreau.)