The French go on the attack on Quatorze Juillet
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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The French go on the attack on Quatorze Juillet

by Ben Atkins at 8:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Everybody wants to win on the host country’s national day but the stage looks like going abroad as usual

thomas voecklerQuatorze Juillet, the 14th of July, is the biggest day of the year in France. The anniversary of the Prise de la Bastille - the Storming of the Bastille - back in 1789, one of the symbolic events of the French Revolution, is as important a day in France as July 4th is in the United States and, since it invariably sits slap in the middle of the Tour de France, it is the day on which every Frenchman wants to win.

Because of this added pressure to succeed the French have often, in the past, fallen over themselves to be that Frenchman, and inadvertently conspired to hand victory to a foreigner. Partly for this reason, a French victory on its national day is more the exception than the rule; the last man to do it was David Moncoutié, who soloed into Digne-les-Bains on July 14th, 2005!

Sadly, Moncoucou was forced out of his final Tour 38km into yesterday’s stage after he crashed on the descent of the Col du Grand Cucheron.

Last year’s Bastille Day stage went to Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez of Spain, taking the prestigious victory on Luz-Ardiden, but French came closer the year before. In the end though, the 2010 stage into Gap went to Portuguese Sergio Paulinho, who outsprinted Belarusian Vasil Kiryienka, after the pair of them escaped from a six-man group that contained Frenchmen Maxime Bouet and Pierre Rolland.

The year before Moncoutié’s triumph, Richard Virenque had taken the win for France, but the Frenchman before him had been Laurent Jalabert back in 2001. The previous Frenchman before that had been Laurent Brochard in 1997 - the year that the mulletted ‘Brochette’ went on to take the World championships - which was two year’s after Jalabert’s first Bastille triumph.

[Europcar's Thomas Voeckler (pictured) has not yet managed it - ed]

Jalabert - who now works on the race - leads a very short, highly illustrious list of riders who have won on Bastille day twice, which includes just Bernard Thévenet, Jacques Anquetil and Charles Pelissier (the latter on consecutive years in 1930-31).

The rarest of all however is the day when all the stars align for France and the national champion takes the stage on his national day, wearing the bleu, blanc, rouge. Incredibly, this has only ever happened once, when tricolore Raymond Delisle took the Pyrénéen stage between Castelnaudary and Luchon, way back in 1969.

The French champion will not win the stage this year, since FDJ-BigMat’s Nacer Bouhanni, who took the title in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux the week before the Tour, was not brought to the race by his team.

Today’s stage, between Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux and the Méditerranéen resort of Le Cap d'Agde, currently has a breakaway of eight riders, five minutes ahead of the peloton as they approach the halfway point. Of the eight, five are Frenchmen, in the form of Bouet again (AG2R La Mondiale), Jerome Pineau (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun).

In there to spoil things for the host nation though, are Denmark’s Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), the Netherlands’ Roy Curvers (Argos-Shimano) and Spain’s Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi). In all likelihood though, all eight will have the day spoiled by them as the sprinters’ teams drag them back before the finish, to give the fast men their first opportunity in more than a week.

Although the 3rd category Mont Saint-Clair with 23km to go will offer something to breakaway opportunists, the long, exposed causeway between the saltwater Bassin de Thau - the second largest lake in France - and the Méditerranéen will make it hard for anyone to stay away to the finish.

With an almost certain sprint, the host nation’s best hopes perhaps lie in the hands of yesterday’s eighth place Sébastien Hinault (AG2R La Mondiale), or maybe Dumoulin himself if he can recover from his time in the break. Sadly, France has not possessed one of the World’s best sprinters for a number of years, so it looks likely that they will have to wait another year to emulate Moncoucou.


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