Tour de France 21 Stories: French Fancies

Stage 19: Albertville–Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc

All right, folks, the Tour is over. Barring well-aimed thunderbolts or precision-timed sinkholes, it’s hard to see what could prevent Chris Froome from celebrating a third victory on the Champs Elysées.

Tour withdrawal symptoms are already encroaching.  But keep your spirits up, there’s always the Olympics to look forward to, with the men’s road race on August 7 and the women’s the following day. And it’s no picnic.

Here’s what Bernard Bourreau, the French team selector, has to say about the course on his federation’s website: “The route for the Olympics road race will be infernal. I’ve never seen such a difficult circuit. There are extraordinary gradients, sometimes as much as 15 to 20%, technical descents with lots of hairpins and bumpy sections with really bad pavé. It’s a course that calls for the full package, a grimpeur-puncheur.”

Bourreau has made his final selection for the men’s race: the deadline fell during the Tour. Julian Alaphilippe, Romain Bardet, Warren Barguil and Alexis Vuillermoz – called up a few days ago after Thibaut Pinot’s Tour abandon due to bronchitis – will be the chosen few. In the event of an injury, with the right doctors’ letters, he’ll be able to draw on Tony Gallopin and Pierre Rolland.

If you thought competing in a once-in-four-years Olympic event was stressful enough, spare a thought for those understudies who will likely never get to ride, but who might (at very short notice) be called on to do their country proud.

The current selected riders have already ridden part of the route during the test event last August, which they dominated: Vuillermoz won, Bardet (below) came third, Gallopin fourth, Pinot sixth and Barguil eighth. So, maybe in Rio you might finally see a bit of French resistance to Froome.

There is another reason why I’m writing about the Olympics when we’re still at the Tour; Bourreau lives a stone’s throw from today’s nineteenth stage, which he knows like the back of his hand.

He can see the Côte des Amerands, the final climb, from the window of his house. “It’s a small mountain road,” he says in the June issue of Vélo Mag. “It’s so narrow the riders will be going into battle in twos. It’ll be a fight to the death to get over it.”

“Over two and a half or three kilometres, it’s a steep climb: between 11 and 13%. It’s precisely here that the stage victory will play out, or perhaps even the GC, because the final bit is more rolling, and I don’t think it’s tough enough to make a difference. As the French national team selector, I’m hoping this stage will smile on a Frenchman.”

Bourreau will no doubt have his binoculars focused on that final climb, and if you’re wondering who the next Olympic champion might be, perhaps you should too.

Whether they’ll be able to pull the same thing off again in August remains to be seen. Judging by their time-trial performances yesterday, bets will be on Romain Bardet.

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