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Marc Madiot blog: As always, Brittany saves cycling

Groupama-FDJ cycling team manager Marc Madiot
Groupama-FDJ cycling team manager Marc Madiot (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

We're heading west for the fourth Grand Départ of the Tour de France from Brest. I wasn't born in 1952 for the first time it started there, and I don't have a fond memory of the second time in 1974 because my childhood idol Luis Ocaña wasn't racing despite being the defending champion. He was injured and got fired by his BIC team the morning of the prologue won by Eddy Merckx. 

I remember it was also the first year the Tour de France went away from the continent to hold a stage in Plymouth, UK, and the winner there was Henk Poppe from the Frisol Dutch team. He had won nothing before and wouldn't win anything after, which means anyone can hope to win and that's the essence of the sport.

The third Grand Départ from Brest was maybe more interesting because cycling was in a huge chaos with regards to governance and doping. The 2008 Tour de France wasn't sanctioned by the UCI but by the French cycling federation, like Paris-Nice that year. Doping controls were carried by the French agency AFLD [and led to the exclusions or disqualifications of Riccardo Riccò, Stefan Schumacher, Bernhard Kohl, Manuel Beltran, Moises Duenas…].

It was a tussle between Grand Tour organisers and the UCI over the Pro Tour. Cycling was on the edge of splitting into several organisations like boxing. Doping had not killed cycling despite all the scandals but politics were likely to do so. Eventually, the 2008 Tour de France was such a disaster that an agreement was found during the Beijing Olympics between the two parties.

It wasn't a long time ago. Let's not forget that Brittany always saves us when cycling is in difficulty. When terrorism prevented the European championships from being held in Nice in 2016, Plumelec in Brittany took over at the last minute. When Covid-19 prevented the European championships from being held in Trentino last year, Plouay in Brittany rescued the UEC. When Denmark was unable to organise both the Euro football and the Tour de France at the same time with the relaunched sports calendars this year, Brittany was ready once again. 

It's the hotbed of cycling. It's a land where politicians and people love our sport. So we always go back to Brittany when we're in trouble.

I have two Breton riders in my Groupama-FDJ team for this Tour de France: Valentin Madouas, who is a native of Brest, and David Gaudu who hails from Landivisiau, near Landerneau, the finish location of stage 1, and lives closer to Mûr-de-Bretagne, the finish of stage 2. I'm reading their interviews. They're on fire! But they need some serenity even though they're racing on home soil. We expect them to perform a bit later on in the mountains.

Other than that, the team hopes to win as early as possible with Arnaud Démare. It's a different approach for us compared to previous years in the absence of Thibaut Pinot, who is injured. He wasn't scheduled to take part in the Tour de France this time anyway. 

Nowadays, the parcours of the different races decide every rider's program. In the past, particularly in French teams, the top riders had to do the Tour and if they did well in the Tour, their season was a success. Times have changed. With the higher density of professional cycling and the exposure given by the three Grand Tours and not only one anymore, even the French teams study the courses to choose their line-ups and the star riders don't necessarily do the Tour. 

Démare is back because he's got opportunities this time and we hope he does as well as at the Giro d'Italia last year.

I go to the Tour de France with a lot of hopes but also with some concerns. I read that the presidency of the UCI was going to communicate the new rules about the use of corticoids in May or June and we're still waiting for it. The MPCC has questioned the UCI about the ketones and is yet to receive an answer. We've seen a few surprising things in the racing recently… 

Nobody wants another Tour that starts from Brest to look like the one in 2008!

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The irrepressible FDJ team manager Marc Madiot brings his unrestrained opinions and insights to Cyclingnews, giving our English-speaking readers a glimpse inside the culture of the French team, and French cycling.