18 years after Gilles Maignan won the French national time trial title, Pierre Latour claimed a surprise win against the clock for AG2R-La Mondiale in Saint-Omer. The third year professional's best previous result against the clock came at the Etoile de Bessèges where he was third on the 11.9km course. By comparison, the Saint-Omer course was 51.6km in length which Latour covered in 1:05:50 minutes.
The win, AG2R-La Mondiale's first on the Factor Slick bike, ensures Latour will start his debut Tour de France wearing the tricolour in the stage 1 Düsseldorf individual time trial.
"After turning pro in 2015, I have done several pretty long time trials, but none ever as long as today (51.6km). I didn't think my intermediate times were so great; there were a lot of little climbs and changes in pace. This was a very demanding course. It's a special day for me. I have never been a Champion of France," said Latour, who beat home Yoann Paillot by 27 seconds.
"My best place before this was a silver medal in 2011 as a junior behind my cousin Romain Faussurier. I want to enjoy this moment, I know it does not happen often. I am proud to win this title in a discipline that I have always loved. It will be a real pleasure to race my first Tour de France and be able to wear this distinctive jersey in Düsseldorf. I will keep my feet on the ground, since I know the level at the WorldTour is very high, but I will certainly fight."
Known more for is climbing capabilities which has seen Latour claim the best young rider jersey at the Tour de Romandie in the last two editions, team manager Vincent Lavenu explained the victory was a welcome surprise.
"Pierre did a superb race, and beat a lot of great professionals today. Still, he was a Junior silver medalists at the World Champion in 2013, so that is an important reference point. Pierre has enormous ability and qualities. We knew he would do a very good ride, but we were not quite expecting such a victory. On a demanding course like that of Saint-Omer, he fought very hard to win this title," Lavenu said.
Having watched Latour race against the clock at the Criterium du Dauphine, Lavenu added that he thought the 23-year-old could be a challenger on the course. As he duly proved.
"We saw at the time trial during the Dauphiné (14th) that he was in shape. He keeps gaining power from one season to the next, and above all, he never gives up. After his stage victory at the Vuelta last year, this is a new stage in his career. And he will have the joy of wearing this beautiful jersey in a few days at the start of the Tour de France."
There was also cause for celebration for AG2R-La Mondiale with Alexis Gougeard improving upon his 2016 result to finish in fifth place. AG2R-La Mondiale were the only team with two riders inside the top-five while defending champion Thibaut Pinot was 13th for FDJ.