Pierre Latour was arguably the most eye-catching neo-pro of the 2015 season, giving an indication of his potential by finishing third at the Route du Sud behind Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana. That promise blossomed further in 2016, with solid displays across a much tougher programme of races, culminating with a stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana - his Grand Tour debut.
The Frenchman has barely put a foot wrong since turning pro, and Cyclingnews caught up with him at AG2R La Mondiale's recent training camp in Vaujany to look back on the season just gone, and ahead to the next steps on the journey.
Cyclingnews: What's your assessment of the 2016 season?
Pierre Latour: A good one. I won a WorldTour race – I did a fair few WorldTour races actually, with Paris-Nice, Pais Vasco, Romandie, Suisse, San Sebastian, Lombardia, and the Vuelta. Last year it was just Catalunya and Lombardia. I'm happy with it because it's another step forward. Last year I was a bit on the limit at the WorldTour races but this year at Pais Vasco and Romanide, I was up there with the top 10, 15. Then Suisse I had the jersey for a day, but fell ill. Things then started to improve again and at the Vuelta it was even better, and Lombardy went well too. So it's a good report card. I'd have like to have won more races, but when your calendar changes to include so much WorldTour it's complicated.
CN: The Vuelta victory must have more than made up for that?
PL: I was hoping it would happen but I wasn't expecting it. I thought my last shot at victory was the Tour de l'Ain, and I did second, third, and then third overall. I thought my chance had gone. So I went to the Vuelta and wasn't expecting anything, because it's a WorldTour race, my first Grand Tour and, what's more, it came after three weeks of racing. The team had been lacking luck throughout, Jan [Bakelants] and Axel [Domont] were in the breaks but never finished it off. The win did us all good, liberated the team, allowed us to put a good full stop to the Vuelta.
CN: What did you hope to get out of your first Grand Tour?
PL: At the start, when we got there, the team wanted me to try my hand at the GC – for the experience for later on. I was around the top 20, and then on stage 15 when everyone finished an hour back, I lost an hour. So from that stage onwards I decided to try and go in the breaks, but it took me a week to get in one. Jan and Axel were often in the breaks so they gave me some good advice, and I managed it in the final week.
CN: Which Grand Tour is on your programme for next season?
PL: I should be going to the Tour. It depends what shape I'm in, how I arrive at that period, but that's the plan.
CN: How would you describe yourself as a rider?
PL: I cope well with the climbs. I'm not as good a climber as a pure climber, but on a flat time trial I'm better. I think I'm more complete than a pure climber.
CN: Would you say the Grand Tours are the races that will bring you success in your career?
PL: I don't know. For the moment, with the level I have, the week-long races suit me well. Three weeks, at the moment, is really too long. Over three weeks the really small details count – the recuperation and everything. You have to be so focused for three weeks, and I think I'd struggle there. I think maybe that will come with age.
CN: You were 10th at Lombardy this year, working for Bardet, so the hilly Classics suit you well, too…?
PL: Yeah. I thought that nearly 250km may be a bit too much at this stage but in fact the Vuelta did me good and I had great form [at Lombardy]. It's a parcours that suits me, but it was raining and I'm not great on the technical descents, so it wasn't ideal for me, but I helped Romain, so it was a good day.
CN: Your performances since turning pro must have given you a lot of confidence…?
PL: What gives me confidence is that I'm still progressing bit by bit. It's good for the future. Since I've started racing I've been improving year on year. Obviously there'll be a year where that stops, but for the moment it's all going well. I'm still in the process of achieving milestones little-by-little – I just need to keep doing that.
CN: Have you identified any specific areas for improvement?
PL: I have the tendency to move about on the bike, and I also have to learn to position myself better at the important moments of a race, even if at the end of the season it went better at Lombardy. But I still have improvement to make there. I have to keep developing in every department really. On the climbs I still lack something to be with the very best, even on the flat when it’s flat out, and I'm not the greatest descender. So I have to progress everywhere. It’s global.
CN: What race objectives have you set yourself for 2017?
PL: I hope to go to a week-long WorldTour race and fight for the GC. This year I was 14th at Pais Vasco, 12th at Romandie, so I'd like to break into the top 10 at a race like that. That's already a big objective of my season. Then after that, win some races, and also help Romain as best as possible when I'm racing with him.