COL D’IZOARD, France (Reuters) - It is 32 years since French cycling fans had a home hero to cheer as overall winner of the Tour de France, but Warren Barguil showed signs on Thursday that he could be the man to eventually end the victory drought.
The last French winner, Bernard Hinault in 1985, hailed from Brittany, and three-time Tour champion Greg Lemond has picked out another Breton, Barguil, as the man to end France’s long wait.
With Sunday’s Paris finish in sight, the 25-year-old lies ninth in the general classification for the 2017 Tour, but having won two stages, including Thursday’s summit finish on the iconic Col d’Izoard, Barguil is on course to be crowned king of the mountains.
Four years ago, the Sunweb rider showed early flashes of Hinault-like spirit as he won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, and he says the man known as ‘The Badger’ remains an inspiration.
“Bernard Hinault is the idol of all the people of Brittany because he won so many races but also because of his character,” said Barguil.
“We don’t see each other very often but every time we meet we try to chat a little bit.”
For all the praise that is being heaped upon him, Barguil remains committed to his family and his Breton roots.
Also, experiences like the one last year where he and five team mates were hit by a car when out training in Spain - “we could all have died”, he said at the time - ensure he has a grounded approach to life. He seems to know his time is yet to come. “First I will try to get this polka-dot jersey all the way to Paris and I will enjoy all those nice moments, you never know what can happen in life,” he said when asked if he was going to focus on the overall classification in next year’s Tour.
“Then next year I will target the one-day classics and then the Tour.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Edited by Julian Shea