If you ever want to know what disappointment looks like, rewatch Warren Barguil's crash on an innocuous-looking bend at last weekend's World Championships road race, after which the Frenchman was left sitting on the tarmac, knowing that his day – and possibly his season – was over.
With a little over 100km to go of the 258.5km elite men's race, Barguil had been forced to make a bike change after a mechanical problem, and was making his way back to the peloton among the team cars.
On a 90-degree right-hand bend, his bike simply slid out from beneath him, perhaps having hit some oil on the road, and down he went. Barguil didn't immediately get up from his sitting position on the road – not seriously hurt, but shellshocked and disappointed after a 2018 season that has not been kind to him.
He duly abandoned.
Barguil's route to participation in the race had been dissatisfactory, too. Initially not chosen by French national team selector Cyrille Guimard, the 26-year-old was delighted to be handed a reprieve when EF Education First-Drapac's Pierre Rolland was forced to pull out with illness just over a week before the event.
Suddenly, he'd been handed a lifeline: to represent his nation at the highest level, and to try to make amends for a season with his new Fortuneo-Samsic team that has been nothing short of a disappointment, having failed to live up to the previous season, then with Sunweb, when he'd taken two stage wins at the Tour de France and won the polka-dot jersey as 'king of the mountains'.
However, as the last man in for France's Worlds squad – and, as it turned out, the first man out – Barguil was under no illusions about his role: to help Julian Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot and the rider who would eventually finish as runner-up, Romain Bardet.
"You have to be honest and realistic: there are riders better than me," he'd told L'Equipe ahead of the race. "I am at their service to try to realise a common goal: to bring the rainbow jersey home."
Barguil's ignominious exit from the Worlds was the rotten cherry on the top of a difficult first season with French Pro Continental team Fortuneo-Samsic, who had acquired their man to lead the team for 2018 and 2019, and at the Tour de France in particular, after his breakout year with Dutch WorldTour outfit Sunweb.
While relations within his new team have remained good, Barguil has failed to fire as the French leader on a French team, albeit a smaller one than he had been used to.
"I left a very, very big organisation for a very little one, with a much smaller budget," said Barguil. "Yes – it was a bit of a shock."
Rumours that he could leave his two-year contract early, or that some kind of deal was going to see him exchanged for Cofidis' troubled sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, were denied by Barguil in the L'Equipe interview, published on Wednesday.
"The team has supported me during the difficult times, but yes, if it hadn't, then maybe I would have considered leaving," admitted Barguil.
Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot denied any recent formal approach for his services, although he had shown interest at the end of last season. However, Cofidis manager Cédric Vasseur has done little to hide his wish to sign Barguil.
"I've approached him, and asked the question," said Vasseur. "The day he's free [of his contract], I'll fight to sign him. I can't miss the opportunity – not when Cofidis is attempting to get back into the WorldTour in 2020."
For now, Barguil said, he's happy to honour his contract for 2019 with Fortuneo-Samsic.
"It's like one big family on the team, and, before I went to the Worlds, it was heartwarming to receive messages of good luck from all the staff," he said. "I have a year left on my contract, and I'll be trying very hard to get back to my best shape and to really deliver in 2019."
Now, Barguil's attention turns to the last of this season's five Monuments: Il Lombardia, on Saturday, October 13.
"I have to thank the organisers for selecting our team for the race. I've had a bit of a difficult run, which included losing a loved one," he told L'Equipe, referring to the death of his grandmother. "It's going to do me good to race at Il Lombardia, and to get back on track for the off-season."
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