Following the 2014 Tour de France's penultimate stage – the time trial between Bergerac and Périgueux – race director Christian Prudhomme held court in the late-afternoon sun outside the press room in front of a handful of journalists.
As usual, the Frenchman was relaxed and jovial. This year, Prudhomme's race has rekindled the French public's interest, with their own thrust back into the spotlight: Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) secured second place overall after the time trial, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) sewed up third, and Péraud's Ag2r teammate, Romain Bardet, after an exceptional second Tour for a 23-year-old, was sixth.
Even if a Frenchman winning the Tour for the first time since Bernard Hinault in 1985 still seems like a little way off – 2014 Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali's advantage over Péraud was 7:52, and 8:24 over Pinot – there was nevertheless much to celebrate, and not just the French riders' performances.
“It's been an emotional Tour de France,” said Prudhomme. “Not just today [after the time trial], but during the whole race. There have been a lot of great surprises along the way – good and bad. Almost every day, something happened that no one expected – the abandons of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, for example – and it became a race in which riders didn't seem afraid to go on the attack. There was no single, overly powerful team that 'blocked' the race, which made for a very interesting Tour.”
Prudhomme hasn't forgotten the Grand Départ in Britain, three long weeks ago, either, and clearly won't any time soon.
“We've never had as many people come out to watch a stage as there were at the ones in Yorkshire, and on the third stage between Cambridge and London. I thank Gary Verity [chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire] infinitely for that, for making it happen – an exceptional man,” said Prudhomme. “People called it 'the grandest Grand Départ ever', which it certainly was. Of course, Britain already has exceptional riders such as Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins, but Gary managed to get everyone from the local communities involved, too.
“It's very important to have champions from 'new' countries – Cadel Evans from Australia, who won the Tour in 2011, and Wiggins and Froome, who won for Britain in the last two years – but this year the more traditional cycling nations have found some new champions, and you need this balance,” continued Prudhomme. “Nibali has dominated this race for Italy, almost from start to finish, but we've also got two Frenchmen on the podium for the first time since 1984: it's been 30 years since that Tour when Laurent Fignon won and Bernard Hinault finished second, so this year's race has signalled the coming-of-age of a new generation.”
The fact that the man who'll finish second to Nibali – Péraud – is actually 37 is an irony not lost on Prudhomme.
“But what he's done is absolutely remarkable, and Pinot and Bardet, who were not far behind, are without doubt huge talents,” Prudhomme said. “We're definitely moving into a new era.”
The Tour director also had nothing but praise for the new Tour champion.
“Nibali reminds me a lot of Felice Gimondi,” said Prudhomme, comparing the Italian to his compatriot who won the Tour in 1965. “He's very elegant on the bike, and constructed his Tour win methodically, with a lot of intelligence.
“Already, I can't wait for next year's Tour,” said Prudhomme, “with Froome and Contador back, up against Nibali, and against the French: the more traditional nations – France, Italy, Spain – up against the 'new' nations, like Great Britain.”
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