It has been some opening week at the Tour de France for Sébastien Turgot. After getting into the break of the day on stage 2 to Spa, the 26-year-old Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider has been mixing it with the top sprinting stars, taking sixth place on stages 4 and 5.
Taking on and competing at the same level with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Alessandro Petacchi and Thor Hushovd - all of whom he's outsprinted over the past two days - has been as much a surprise to the rider from Limoges as it has been to everyone else.
"I wasn't expecting this at all, it's a nice surprise," said Turgot after his 6th place finish on stage 5. "For my first Grand Tour it's looking really good. I've also competed well in sprints, but this is the Tour de France we're talking about. I've never worked specifically on sprints, but I'm going to think about it now. From now on I'll have to start thinking that I can win. The most important thing is to have confidence in my ability."
Turgot acknowledges that his rapid turn of finishing speed stems in some part from his experience as a track rider, but reveals that he's not spent much time on the boards recently. "The problem is that you have to be riding on the track regularly in order to have that little of zip and speed to compete in bunch sprints. After having mononucleosis last year, it's been almost 18 months since I was last on the track. Since I came back I've devoted myself to the road. Consequently, the track is not a key factor in my sprinting success here."
Turgot says that Bbox doesn't have a sprint train to set him up for bunch finales. Instead, he relies on feel. "Thomas Voeckler has taken me up through the field with 15km left, then I just try to stay in the top 20 until we're 5km from the line. Then, in the final 2km, I work my way up into the top 10 and decide which sprinter's wheel to take. That depends really on who is the closest to me. Today [Thursday] I slipped in behind Tyler Farrar and then Thor Hushovd," Turgot said.
The French Tour debutant says he'll be determined to get involved again on stage 6 if it concludes with a sprint. "It will be more complicated, but of course I will be back in there giving it a go even if the finish of the stage is more difficult. It will undoubtedly be my last chance to shine in a sprint. After that I will be focusing on getting into breaks once again."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).