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Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale)
Former mountain biker enters circle of favourites on first try
If it wasn't for Thomas Voeckler, the French media would be all over Jean-Christophe Péraud as the nations's best-placed rider on the Tour de France general classification. Indeed, the AG2R-La Mondiale rider has been riding an impressive race so far, currently sitting in eleventh position behind the leader. For his very first try at the French Grand Tour, it's an amazing result.
"Thank you, and I hope there will be more to come," Péraud told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 17 to Pinerolo. The former mountainbiker and Olympic silver medallist rode himself into the position of sole leader of his team on the Pyrenean stage to Plateau de Beille, and looks set to realise his initial goal of a top ten placing as the race enters its decisive phase in the Alps.
"The Galibier and Alpe d'Huez will be the key moments of the last week, together with the time trial. That's where the general classification will be decided," Péraud continued.
"We reconn'ed the climbs with the team, but I already know them well. Especially Alpe d'Huez, wich is a climb I know from doing lots of mountain biking there and which I particularly like. But everything will depend on my form that day."
Péraud felt less powerful in the rain and cold stage 16 to Gap, but still managed to get into the finish in the same group as race leader Thomas Voeckler.
"I was underneath the level of the other favourites, but I hope to find back the form I had on the Plateau de Beille. I think I stand good chances of a top ten placing in Paris if I come back to that state of form."
Instead of aiming at a stage victory, widely regarded as more prestigious and media-effective than an anonymous GC placing, Péraud opted for the latter. "I put my mind on achieving the top ten before the Tour started, so that's my objective. It's true that it's something that remains unnoticed by a lot of people but on a sporting level, it's still interesting,"
Péraud's first bid at the Tour comes after a missed opportunity last year with Omega Pharma-Lotto, when an illness sidelined him from the Tour squad. At 34 years of age, his road career is lifting off late, but the man who also holds several degrees in engineering has no regrets having turned to the road only later in his career.
"No, absolutely no regrets whatsoever. I scored a silver medal at the Olympics, and I wouldn't have been able to do that if I had started a professional road career earlier. Now, I experience something else..."
As to fellow countryman Voeckler, he wished him "to get to Paris in yellow, but unfortunately the time trial in Grenoble could be fatal to him. I think he will be able to stand his ground in the mountains, but it will be difficult for him against the clock."
To Péraud, though, the time trial course in Grenoble on the penultimate day will be a good opportunity to pass some of his rivals on GC. The former mountain biker is also a skilled rouleur who was crowned French time trial champion in 2009.
"There will be some interesting seconds to gain for me on the time trial, even though I've regressed a bit lately in the race against the clock. It seems that good climbing and good time trialling are contradictory. I've worked my climbing and it's affected my performances against the clock," Péraud conceded.