Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) celebrated a breakthrough victory in the Vuelta a España on Friday, sheering away from the main pack with two kilometres to go - a victory that means the former Tour de L’Avenir winner has now hit the limelight on the professional stage, and gives French cycling fans every reason to hope for even greater success in the future.
Aged just 21, what Barguil achieved cannot be underestimated. In a breakaway packed with seasoned, doughty pros of the calibre of Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2R), Barguil managed to outwit them all. On top of that, rather than curl up and quit after a big crash last Monday en route to Sierra Nevada, Barguil bounced back to take a Grand Tour victory in his first season as a pro.
“My sports director kept on telling me, ‘the Vuelta’s not over, it’s not over’ and he was right,” Barguil recognised with a smile in his winner’s press conference, held in - of all places - the upper rooms of a castle near the finish.
The son of a very successful Breton amateur, Barguil dedicated the win to his grandfather, who died recently, pointing towards the sky as he crossed the line seven seconds ahead of Nocentini, who pounded the handlebars in frustration at losing to the rookie pro.
“I’m very happy because after the big crash [in the neutralised section on stage nine] I felt very disappointed. But we haven’t got a GC leader here and our objective was always to get into breaks,” Barguil said.
“I was lucky, in a sense, because there was only one rider from each team in the break. That meant they all wore each other out and I only had to wait until they were tired. But I didn’t want to take too many risks and go for it in the sprint or on that last uphill climb, so I went for it a little earlier.”
The veterans, presumably none too sure of the new kid on the block and more willing to give him a little margin than better known rivals, let Barguil get a few metres, and then found it was too late.
Had he expected to take a win in his first Grand Tour? “Just getting to the Vuelta was a great satisfaction,” Barguil, already a top ten finisher on stages four to Fisterra and on stage nine’s notoriously tricky ascent to Valdepeñas de Jaén, said. “I don’t feel like a big champion for what I’ve done. All I can hope is that this isn’t the last!”
Whilst his dream win, in any case, is a stage in the Tour de France, the World Championships are looming fast. “I’m just thinking about the Vuelta for now,” Barguil insisted, and given the nature of the Worlds course and his victory on a smillarly hilly course Spain, a solid ride in Italy by the young Frenchman could well be on the cards. As for the future, who knows?