With only seven stages left in this year’s race, French riders face the embarrassing prospect of ending the Tour de France without a stage victory for only the third time since the event was created in 1903.
While Romain Bardet, fourth overall, is fighting for a podium finish in Paris and David Gaudu can still hope to end up in the top five overall, none of the 27 French riders left in the race, with the exception of Thibaut Pinot, appear in a position to raise their arms in celebration.
Pinot, a 2014 podium finisher who came agonisingly close to winning the Tour in 2019 before he abandoned injured two days before the Champs Elysees parade, finished fourth in Chatel and third in Mende on Saturday. read more
The Groupama-FDJ rider is on the Tour without any ambitions for the title after being hampered with injuries for two years and he will go for a stage win again in the Pyrenees.
Gaudu, his team leader, or Bardet will not be allowed into a breakaway and they are a notch below the top two riders in the race, yellow jersey holder Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark and Slovenia’s defending champion Tadej Pogacar.
Only twice before, in 1926 and 1999, have the local favourites reached Paris empty-handed.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe is the last French rider with a win on the Tour after he prevailed in the opening stage last year. Since then, the locals have gone 34 stages without a victory – an all-time worst performance.
But he is not taking part in the race this year after suffering several injuries in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in April.
“Alaphilippe is not here and he’s being sorely missed,” AG2R-Citroen manager Vincent Lavenu said.
“Three Danish riders have won this year already but no French. Until the end of the Tour we need to find opportunities to put more riders in the breakaways.”
Getting into a group of breakaway riders seems to be the only hope for the French as they cannot rival Vingegaard and Pogacar in the mountains and this year no top sprint specialist features in any team in the absence of Arnaud Demare.
Christophe Laporte, who is also a decent sprinter, rides for Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team and has been assigned to domestique duties on the flat stages.
“It’s hard to explain. You have to be strong but also have a bit of luck,” said Laporte.
“We see French riders who are strong but they don’t get very lucky. I also think these days it’s kind of always the same who win. (Belgian) Wout (van Aert), (Tadej) Pogacar, Jonas (Vingegaard).
“You have to be stronger and stronger to win and I think we are not the best in the mountains. The French need to go into the breakaways.”
One of their best chances might come on Sunday when the 15th stage takes the peloton from Rodez to Carcassonne on a 202.5-km bumpy ride.