At age 34, Frenchman Jean-Christophe Péraud will ride his first Tour de France this year as the oldest rookie in the race. Having turned pro on the road only in 2010, the former mountain biker said he is "very impatient and happy" to be here with his AG2R-La Mondiale team.
Last year the former Olympic silver medalist on the mountain bike was supposed to race his first Tour with Omega Pharma-Lotto, but he pulled-out because of an infection three weeks before the start.
"My mind is the same as one year ago: I don't want just to discover the Tour, I'm a hungry competitor," he told Cyclingnews.
Péraud hopes to be in Top 10 in GC, and this goal inspires mixed feelings: on one hand he lacks experience in grands tours, having only raced the Vuelta once. On the other hand, Péraud showed himself in stage races for two years. He finished twice in the top 10 at Paris-Nice, fourth of the Tour of the Basque Country last year, second at the Tour Mediterranean and seventh at the Critérium du Dauphiné this year.
Péraud is facing another issue. He was injured last spring in a crash in the Tour of the Basque Country that he was almost winning, and noticed that his time trial abilities have declined since then. Not totally in the shape he expected before the Tour, he explained: "As a perfectionist the situation is stressful. But I saw with the Vuelta how demanding a grand tour is. Perhaps it will be an asset to start here only with 90% of my potential."
Péraud will share the leadership at AG2R-La Mondiale with Nicolas Roche. Team manager Vincent Lavenu called the Irishman number one and the French number two. Péraud views double leadership positively. "It's better to have two riders able to perform well than zero. The Schleck brothers prove it's possible to race with two leaders.
"The pressure will be divided. To be in Top 10 we have to follow the best riders every day, so we'll stay together and see how things are going."
Rated an aggressive rider, Péraud says he will be a "follower" at the Tour because he says can't waste his energy or pretend he can attack the best leaders. A lonesome rider in mountain bike teams, he is now part of a traditional road squad. In one word his Tour de France's challenge is deeply enigmatic.
"It was important for me to race it once," Péraud tells. "I don't know how many times I will be here so I will enjoy. But I know I'm at the end of my career."
Lavenu is more optimistic: "Jean-Christophe has got a huge margin to gain, especially in tactic and experience," he tells Cyclingnews. "Chris Horner, aged 39, is a good example of an older but very strong rider. So I'd be happy to work with Jean-Christophe for a few more years."