Pinot-Bardet rivalry puts Poulidor in mind of Anquetil-Poulidor
Raymond Poulidor has praised the current generation of French stage racing talent, going so far as to compare the competition between Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) with his own fabled rivalry with Jacques Anquetil.
"With Pinot-Bardet, we've got Anquetil-Poulidor again!" Poulidor told AFP. "Last year, during a stage [to Mende, won by Steve Cummings – ed.] they lost because they both wanted to win. They marked each other tightly and others took advantage of it. The public is going to be fascinated by this duel."
France hasn't produced a Tour de France winner since Bernard Hinaut in 1985, but Poulidor has taken heart from the recent displays of Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), as well as Bardet and Pinot.
"The French peloton has never been so rich in ingredients," Poulidor said. "Some young riders – the oldest is only 26 – can be in the shake-up to win big international stage races: Bardet, Pinot, Alaphilippe and Barguil have enormous potential."
The Tour finished in Limoges on Tuesday to pay tribute to Poulidor in the year of his 80th birthday. Eight times a podium finisher on the Tour, Poulidor never won the race or wore the yellow jersey, but endures as one of the most popular figures in its history. On Tuesday, Poulidor was on the podium to present Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) with the maillot jaune.
Martinelli on special relationship with Aru
Astana directeur sportif Giuseppe Martinelli must manage the aspirations of both Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali at this Tour de France, but the Italian has declared himself confident that the two can dovetail their efforts.
Aru is the designated leader of the Astana team in France, while Nibali, fresh from Giro d'Italia victory, has been assigned something of a free role. "I know I've got a big responsibility, but I'm gladly holding the hot potato. It's rewarding," Martinelli told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Martinelli was in the team car for each of Nibali's Giro wins and his overall victory at the 2014 Tour, but he admitted that he has a closer relationship with Aru, given that the Sardinian has spent his entire professional career at Astana and under his tutelage.
"Nibali's said it to me a few times: 'Ah, you prefer Fabio'. Aru's never said it to me but he knows that I have a special relationship with him," Martinelli said.
"Vincenzo arrived at Astana already a champion, whereas Fabio grew with us and, I won't deny it, I'm a bit jealous when he speaks with other people. If I feel this extra attachment to Fabio it must be because I'm inclined towards the side [of the job] that involves discovering a young rider, a talent. For that reason, I feel a bit like Aru is 'mine'."
Both Nibali and Aru have safely negotiated the Tour's fraught opening stages, though Martinelli provided an insight into their two approaches to riding in the peloton.
"Nibali is more open, freer. Sometimes he stops to pee alone and doesn't tell his teammates, whereas Aru will always say it over the radio," Martinelli said. "Fabio is more rational, he always wants to know more, he almost takes the words out of your mouth. Nibali doesn't need much, maybe sometimes you don't even hear him for a long time."
Laporte steps into sprint role for Cofidis in absence of Bouhanni
With Nacer Bouhanni ruled out of the Tour de France due to the hand injury he picked up in an altercation with rowdy hotel guests on the eve of the French championships, Christophe Laporte has landed himself with an unexpected leadership role for Cofidis.
The 24-year-old had expected to ride as part of Bouhanni's lead-out train at the Tour, but has instead found himself fighting it out for a result in the bunch sprints, placing 6th at Utah Beach on stage 1 and 8th on stage 3 in Angers.
"I've been working all year for Nacer, it's a shame that he's not here with us," Laporte told Libération. "Normally, I'd been his lead-out man, riding in front of him from 500 metres to go to 200 metres to go."
The Cofidis Tour team was built around Bouhanni, and despite the absence of the fast man, the men in red have continued to form a lead-out train in the finale of flat stages. "The team isn't putting pressure on me, but I'm putting it on myself," Laporte said, adding that he still had much to learn. "But it's complicated to take classes during a Tour de France."
Tour de France stage 4 highlights - Video
Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) finally took the Tour de France stage victory he had been fighting for, but this one came in a photo finish that put him just millimetres ahead of Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie).
Kittel expressed relief, saying "it feels like my first stage win again".
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) was third, keeping the race lead and perhaps more importantly moving him back into the lead of the points classification over Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) with the mountains of Massif Central looming ahead on Wednesday.