Even though this year's Tour de France was quite a successful one for French teams with three stage wins and a showing in the yellow jersey, the best Frenchmen in General Classification did not make it into the top 10. Sandy Casar was the best placed Frenchman at 14th, but just behind him was a newcomer to the Tour, Cofidis' Amaël Moinard. Never heard of him? That's why Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner sat down with him on the Tour's ultimate start in Etampes.
Before Casar passed Moinard on General Classification on stage 16 to Jausiers, the Cofidis rider had been 'best Frenchman' for five days. Part of a breakaway, he jumped from 37th to 25th position on stage 11 to Foix in the Pyrenees, and then just kept improving. In the end, Moinard wasn't unhappy to have lost his title to Casar.
"To finish best Frenchman doesn't mean anything to me," he shrugged. "That's only something for the media and the public - but it's never been one of my personal goals. To finish within the top 15 on my first Tour de France, on the other hand, is something that makes me very happy and proud. Nobody expected this of me, except of course [Cofidis manager] Eric Boyer and my trainer, who knew that I could perform this way."
The man from Cherbourg in the North of France that his whole season preparation this year was centred around the Tour de Franc, which could explain his good performances especially in the final week of the race. "Since last winter, I have been preparing and concentrating solely on the Tour. It was a bit risky, but it worked out! So I came here feeling fresh, and the more experienced people told me that that's what makes the difference in the last ten days," he explained.
"Even in the last time trial, I still had some energy. I'm surprised at myself, but at the same time, I think that all my preparation and work just pays off."
Moinard's career so far has been a steady build-up, a logical succession of improvement. The 26 year-old started out at Cofidis aged 23, in 2005. This year is thus his fourth year as a professional. While racing at amateur level, the Frenchman finished his studies of applied mathematics. In his final year as an Espoir rider, he nevertheless decided to really give it a go as a cyclist. "I told my parents, 'I want to ride the bike for six months flat out, to see if I can get a pro contract'. I had already been in the French national team the year before, but becoming a pro cyclist really was my dream. It helped that I already had my university degree," he continued.
Cofidis manager Eric Boyer saw the talent of the young all-rounder and took him on. "I worked two years for the team, without any personal agenda. It was just about gaining experience and power on some bigger races like the Tour de Romandie, the Tours of Germany and Poland. Last year, I started getting some results: I won a stage at the Route du Sud, where there were four climbs in one day. I passed guys like Sevilla and Mancebo, so I started getting more and more confidence in my abilities."
Moinard then finished 11th overall in the Deutschland Tour and 14th in the Tour of Poland. "I was never center-stage, always in the second ranks, in the shadow of others. Still, I earned a spot in the national team for the World Championships."