Another French breakaway win in Tour de France signals resurgence (sans doping) on home soil
July 12, 2009 —
Nine stages into the 2009 Tour de France and there’s already been three breakaway victories by French riders. Something surely must be amiss.
The French have notoriously fallen flat in the national tour. The last time a Frenchman won the Tour was Bernard Hinault, the hard-fighting Badger who won the last of his five Tours in 1985.
Richard Virenque finished twice on the podium in the 1990s, but it was later discovered that he was more gassed up than a top-fuel dragster.
Virenque was a notorious figure in the Festina Affaire, a scandal in the 1998 Tour that revealed how far the depravity of doping had gone in the sport. Nearly the entire team was doped to the gills, thanks to a slush fund to underwrite the purchase of EPO, human growth hormones, corticoids and a cornucopia of other performance-enhancing products.
Since then, the French government and cycling officials have done a lot to clean up cycling. French teams cannot hold training camps beyond French borders, a ruling designed to eliminate “high-altitude” training camps that were viewed by some cynics as being little more than a euphemism for blood doping.
Since 1999, French riders have been subject to strict, quarterly anti-doping testing, a practice that the UCI has finally applied universally across the peloton a decade after the Festina scandal blew the lid on organized doping within the ranks of the peloton.
For years, the French riders complained of a peloton “at two speeds,” one for the riders who still enjoyed a full pharmalogical arsenal of support, and the French riders.
Now it appears that cycling is cleaning up its act across the board, regardless of where a rider holds a passport. So perhaps it’s no surprise that French riders are starting to win more.
In Sunday’s 160.5km ninth stage, Pierrick Fedrigo upstaged Italian climber Franco Pellizotti as the two rode alone across some of the Pyrénées most famous climbs. The Aspin and Tourmalet were too far from the finish – more than 70km – to be much of a factor for the GC riders, but the attacking pair made the most of their opening.
A large group was breathing down their neck, almost reeling them in on the long, flat run into Tarbes, but Fedrigo was able to sweep past the Italian to score France’s third stage victory in a week, just 34 seconds clear of the pack.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like a Frenchman is going to win the Tour any time soon.
The top-ranked French rider is Brice Feillu, sitting 25th overall at 4:26 back, a Tour rookie who gained a lot of time when he won out of a break up the Arcalis summit Friday who is expected to slide backwards next week.
So if the peloton is racing all at the same speed these days, what excuse will the French come up with now to explain why they can never come close to winning the Tour?
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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