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Bernard Hinault is not known for his laudatory comments about contemporary racers. In fact, he still doesn’t see a French winner of the Tour de France coming down the pipe anytime soon.
But the “Badger” admits he is impressed by the latest crop of young, promising riders elbowing their way into the peloton.
“I’ve never seen such a good generation,” Hinault told AFP. “Evenepoel, van der Poel, Bernal, Pogačar … they have it all. There is a change of generation which is happening.”
Egan Bernal became the youngest Tour winner in 2019, a mark bettered by Tadej Pogačar, who won the Tour in September at 20 years old. The likes of Remco Evenepoel, 20, and Mathieu van der Poel, 25, are leaving their mark in dramatic ways across the peloton as a wave of younger riders reach new heights.
Despite the larger success, Hinault remains pessimistic about the chances of a French rider to win a grand tour. Hinault, of course, is the last French rider to win the Tour, all the way back in 1985. Laurent Fignon won the Giro d’Italia in 1989 and Laurent Jalabert was the last French rider to win a grand tour, with the Vuelta a España in 1995.
“Unfortunately, for the moment, I do not see a Frenchman who will succeed me,” Hinault said. “I would be so happy to meet him.”
Despite a few recent promising campaigns, including Julian Alaphilippe, Romain Bardet, and Thibaut Pinot, Hinault said he simply doesn’t see any of those riders capable of finishing off the job.
“In the high mountains, when it’s been a day or two, he will have a lot of trouble,” Hinault said of Alaphilippe. And Pinot? “I don’t think he can win.”
Hinault doesn’t see David Gaudu, the last French winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, as a future yellow jersey winner either.
“He doesn’t seem to have it in his head that he’s is going to win the Tour,” Hinault said. “It’s important to let him do what he wants, and perhaps try to win some stages. The only way to win the Tour for a Frenchman is to try to do what Thomas Voeckler did in 2011, and get a 10-minute lead.”