It’s 37 years since the last home winner of the Tour de France. Is there a rider who could change that this summer?
They have a mountain to climb to compete with Tadej Pogačar, Primoz Roglič, and Co – it’s been over a year since a Frenchman finished higher than seventh in a WorldTour stage race. And for their contenders, there are question marks around form, consistency, injury, or problems in their build-up.
However, no need for doom and gloom. There is usually a French rider who springs a surprise and steals the hearts of the viewing nation. Plus, the nation has a golden generation of swashbuckling, savvy stage hunters.
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Here’s our look at the French contenders for the 2022 Tour de France.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM)
Tour best: 2nd, 2016
Just when he thought he was out, a race-ruining illness at the Giro pulls him back in. Bardet looked to be back to his best at the Giro d’Italia, comfortable in the heat of the GC battle, before pulling out after a fortnight’s action.
However, it’s given him a chance to re-focus on his home race. It feels like he’s a grizzled veteran, but the man from Brioude is only 31 and seems to be enjoying a new lease of life at Team DSM. This two-time podium finisher and three-time stage winner will threaten for mountain stages.
Bardet himself has said “I want to race every stage like it’s a classic.” But given his consistency, it would not be a surprise for him to slot into the top ten either. He can’t have it both ways: he’ll need to lose some time to be given necessary freedom to spread his wings in the mountains.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ)
Tour best: 11th, 2021
The recent Critérium du Dauphiné showed Gaudu’s flair and flaws. He weaved his way past rivals in an uphill bunch sprint like a boosted-up Mario Kart driver to pip the prematurely-celebrating Wout van Aert for a stage win. Then, while lying close to the podium, he shipped seven minutes on the final day to Plateau de Solaison, tumbling down the general classification.
It was a bit similar to his 2021 Tour de France, his overall challenge undone when he lost over 20 minutes to his fellow contenders on the stage over Mont Ventoux to Malaucène with heatstroke. Then he came round in the Pyrénées, threatening for a breakaway stage win and finishing eleventh overall.
So, while David has shown encouraging glimpses of belonging with the Goliaths, his consistency over three weeks still needs confirming. The glasses wearer dreams of the podium, but a stage is a more clear-sighted next step.
With a newly-signed contract till 2025 in his pocket, he is the apparent future of Groupama-FDJ. Gaudu has indicated that whether he or Thibaut Pinot leads is yet to be defined, but said “there will be no war of egos.”
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)
Tour best: 3rd, 2014
Pinot’s performances have become more polarized: sublime or terrible, with very little in between. Few riders stir emotions like the Frenchman either. You’d have to be heartless to not feel for him when he abandoned the 2019 Tour de France in tears, days before the finish, poised in a group of five remaining favorites to challenge for the yellow jersey.
Will that be our abiding memory of him? Was that his last chance of Tour triumph?
He’s been frustrated by injury problems for the last two years. But Pinot isn’t done yet; at the Tour de Suisse, he rolled back the years in a timely manner, riding to a stage win that will do wonders for his confidence on the way to 14th place.
His only GC top-ten of the season is eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico. A similar result at the Tour would be a popular feat, given the travails he’s endured. However, his class, intelligence and appetite for an attack makes him more likely to hunt stages.
“To go to the Tour and finish sixth, or to come eighth in the Vuelta, doesn’t interest me,” he told Eurosport recently. “It doesn’t make me happy. It’s the good or bad emotions, being disappointed, happy, angry, that’s what drives me. I’ll be lining up in Denmark to win a stage.”
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
Tour best: 8th, 2021
The old dependable. Well, you can depend on him losing five minutes one day, then leapfrogging back up the GC the next by infiltrating a breakaway. He’s coming off fourteenth place at the Giro d’Italia, so it will be interesting to see whether that sets him up ideally or has him losing ground in the final week.
You can’t deny his reliability. Martin has been the highest French finisher at their national race for the last two years, finishing eighth and eleventh.
However, it’s been 14 years since Cofidis last won a Tour de France stage; that could be more valuable to the Frenchman and the team than another finish on the fringes of the maillot jaune battle.
Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies)
Tour best: 13th and best young rider, 2018
It’s been a tricky 2022 for Latour, crashing out of Tour of the Basque Country contention while in the top-10 and fracturing his radius at the Mercan’Tour Classic three weeks ago.
He should enter the Tour without pressure – if he makes the TotalEnergies team at all – but he’s also badly under-raced. The race’s first week, with its nerves, potential crosswinds and cobblestones, is not much fun for someone desperately playing catch-up.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
When Alaphilippe is on-song, we’re guaranteed an exciting show of attacking racing from a king of charisma. But nobody knows what shape he is in: he hasn’t raced for two months, since exiting Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a punctured lung, a broken shoulder blade, and ribs.
The French national championships will be a crucial test, showing whether he’s in good enough nick to start in Copenhagen. If anyone can wow with his powers of recovery, it’s the reigning world champion, who has won at least one Tour stage for the last four editions of the race.
Stages six to Longwy and stage eight to Lausanne are right down his street and he could threaten in the mountains. However, a GC challenge is surely a step too far, even if his buccaneering 2019 fifth place sticks in the memory.
Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r-Citroën)
had several near misses without crossing the line first this year. The Amstel Gold Race is front and center, losing by millimeters and even celebrating before realizing the result. Still, it was a reminder that on his day, Cosnefroy is dynamite. It’s high time for a stage win on the biggest stage of all for the puncheur.
Of course, speaking of French hopes, his team Ag2r-Citröen has the most likely contender in Australian climber Ben O’Connor. Cosnefroy will be lending a hand there too.
Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic)
The Breton has got back to the top step of the podium this year, winning a Tirreno-Adriatico stage and the GP Miguel Indurain.
It’s five years since his two Tour stage victories and King of the Mountains titles, but if Barguil goes back to the attacking philosophy that he adores, he won’t be far off this summer. Arkéa Samsic may well need “Wawa” firing on all cylinders too, as Nairo Quintana chases fitness after an April crash.
And the rest…
Cofidis sprinter Bryan Coquard can get over the hills and in the mix, but there always seems to be a rival with a stronger team around him or a slightly faster kick. His team-mate Victor Lafay took a flyer for a memorable Giro stage last year and is due a Tour debut this year. Fellow prospect Benjamin Thomas has also enjoyed his strongest season to date. This might just be the year that the boys in red-and-white break their duck.
Versatile Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) can seemingly do it in the high mountain air or on the Flemish cobblestones. The Tour of Flanders podium finisher will be looking to kick on with a stage win this summer.
In terms of breakaway flair, TotalEnergies will have a team with plenty of firepower. We’ve seen their pedigree already on home soil in 2022, with Mathieu Burgaudeau, Alexis Vuillermoz and Valentin Ferron escaping to victory at Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné respectively. Meanwhile, Anthony Turgis is overdue glory on the biggest stage to go with his spring Classics near misses over the years.
It’s now ten years since attack-happy Pierre Rolland’s last Tour stage win. The B&B Hotels-KTM man looked full of riding at the Critérium du Dauphiné, losing out to Ferron on the road to Gap. Nevertheless, he’ll need to show his finest form in years to challenge for a stage win or the King of the Mountains jersey.
Lastly, while a French winner in Paris is unlikely, there could be a Frenchman on the winning team. Christophe Laporte made the Jumbo-Visma selection; he’ll be protecting Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard, and leading out Wout van Aert.