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France came as close to winning the yellow jersey last summer as in any time in the past few decades. On Tuesday, after taking their first peek at what’s in store next July for the 2020 Tour de France, many are already daring to keep the dream alive.
French stars across the peloton applauded the unconventional route short on time trials and packed for of surprises.
“At first glance, it’s an ideal Tour route for me,” said Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who lit up last year’s Tour only to abandon in tears. “I can dream of doing even better than last year. I am more motivated than ever to prepare for the race better than I ever have before.”
That collective “esprit de corps” was evident among nearly all the French riders who huddled together Tuesday in Paris to get their first glimpse of what next year’s Tour is serving up.
The race, which starts a week earlier than usual on June 27 to make room for the Tokyo Olympics, has eight mountain stages and three hilly stages that should suit the French riders like a well-tailored suit. Climbs are littered across all five of France’s major mountain groups, with the Alps, Pyrénées, Massif Central, Jura and Vosges mountains all playing bit roles.
“The course requires everyone to be on their toes right from the start,” said Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), who won two stages and the climber’s jersey in 2017. “The Tour is going to be demanding every day. There will be plenty of room to move.”
Absent this year are the prologue, team time trial or even a longer, flatter individual time trial. The route’s lone test against the clock is a climbing route ending high in the Vosges on the Planche des Belles Filles. Perhaps not coincidentally, the penultimate stage is just down the road from the home of Pinot.
“If I had been able to draw the time trial out myself on a map, this would have been it,” Pinot said. “The cherry on the cake is the time trial in the Vosges. I know the roads like the back of my hand. I hope to be playing a big role in the decisive moment of the Tour.”
Some have even as gone as far as to suggest that the Tour route was purposely built to improve the chances of a French victory. No Frenchman has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault won his fifth yellow jersey back in 1985. After fits and starts over the ensuing decades, this latest generation of contenders seems the most promising.
Tour officials say they never design a course to favor the route toward any particular rider, but the dearth of time trials and a bounty of climbs will only help the likes of Pinot, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and last year’s revelation Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step).
“The organization is probably trying to favor the French riders,” said Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), third in 2019. “It’s ideal for Alaphilippe. When I see how difficult the course will be next year, I also think it’s good for me. I cannot wait to be there.”
The 2020 Tour route features a few new twists, including a selective climb right out of the gate in stage 2 near Nice, as well as the new climb at the Col de la Loze, high in the French Alps on a stair-stepping climb that peaks out at 2300m.
“It’s the prototype for the 21st-century mountain we have been looking for,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said of the climb. “It has a succession of ruptures and breaks with rapidly changing inclines each one worse than the last one. For the pure climbers, it’s a dream come true.”
One rider hoping to be back at his best after two disappointing Tour rides in a row is Bardet. The Ag2r-La Mondiale captain is betting on being protagonists next summer.
“Once again the Tour de France has created a very beautiful route,” Bardet said. “The number of stages in the mountains will offer us the chance to put on a good show, and I imagine that many riders will want to take part in it.”
Of all the Frenchman, no one raised the collective imagination and dreams of an entire nation more than Alaphilippe. The swashbuckling star held the yellow jersey for 14 days, and defended bravely in the Alps before finally succumbing to Egan Bernal and Team Ineos. Alaphilippe has already hinted he will not be focusing on the GC in 2020, especially with a favorable Olympic road race course waiting in Japan, but he’s excited for what lies ahead.
“Suddenly I was the leader and everyone started dreaming, even me, I’d be pedaling away thinking more and more about it,” Alaphilippe said. “2020 will be different, but honestly I just can’t wait.”
Perhaps more than any French rider, it’s Pinot who seems to be best positioned to truly have a legitimate run at the yellow jersey. He has the climbing chops and experience to ride for three weeks. Backed by an ever-improving squad, a more mature Pinot is poised to make all the French dreams come true.
Pinot likes what he sees on the horizon for next July.
“The big mountains are hard and selective, but even the medium-mountain stages are challenging. There will be a lot of room to attack,” Pinot said. “I hope to be at an even a better level than I was this year. This route excites me and motivates me.”
Those are words that will vibrate across the French cycling community for the coming months. Pinot, who has a fearless riding style, is a rider dear to Hinault’s heart. As the Badger says, the best way to win the Tour is to attack. With the surprising route on tap for 2020, Pinot and Co. will have plenty of chances to make the Badger proud.