Win July 14. Win at Alpe d’Huez. It is a closed double circle. A club where the membership card is dearly acquired. But once you are part of it, you belong in one case to the collective memory of French cycling, in the other to the history of cycling in general. Here, it is more the nature of the pleasure that differs, more than its intensity. Emotional strength or major accomplishment.
This year, for the first time, the stage of July 14 coincides with the queen stage of the Tour and the arrival in the legendary Isère resort, whose ascent of the 21 laces will be preceded by the escalation of the Galibier then the the Iron Cross. If a French rider is lucky enough to win this Thursday, he will sign the victory of a lifetime, the one we are talking about years, even decades later.
Since the Second World War, the Tricolores winners on July 14 are 13 in number. Jacques Anquetil, unique case, even experienced a double fireworks display, in 1961 and 1964. But each has its own story. Vincent Barteau, for example. The former teammate of Laurent Fignon not only raised his arms on July 14, but ON July 14, in 1989, the day of the bicentenary of the storming of the Bastille. “I haven’t won much in my career, he said, but I did two things that people always tell me about: wearing the yellow jersey for two weeks (in 1984, editor’s note) and my victory on July 14, 1989. It marks people.”
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People remember it. This is the common point between all the testimonies of these French people who had the chance to hit the bull’s eye on this day like no other. In 2020, during the first month of July without a Tour since 1946 since it had been postponed to the end of the summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Eurosport had brought together the last two tricolor heroes of July 14, David Moncoutié (2005) and Warren Barguil (2017). Their words often overlapped, especially on this memorial aspect.
“People remember it more easilyassured Moncoutié. When I meet people who follow the bike a bit but not more than that, they know that I won on July 14th. My victory at Figeac (a year earlier, July 15), no one remembers the date. The media are always talking about it too, even years later. Every year, until Warren’s victory, I was called, I was entitled to my little article because I was the last.”
Royal breakaway, solitary raid: Barguil and Moncoutié recount their victorious July 14
On the day itself, everything is different. From the morning. “The briefing is a bit differentresumes David Moncoutié, who was at Cofidis. It ‘needs’ the French in front. I know that at FDJ for example, Marc Madiot gave a really special briefing. I was not in this team but it was known“Warren Barguil wore the colors of a foreign team, Sunweb, during his success in the Pyrenees in 2017.”At the briefing, we talked about it, just for me. It was ‘Wawa, you know what you have to do today’“, says the Breton.
When place trumps date
Before departure, attention is also focused more on the locals than on other days. And not just from the French media. “Even the foreign media come more to see the French riders on July 14confirms Barguil. I remember that in the morning, I had many more foreign journalists who came to see me. They know how important it is to us.”
On the course, the crowd is in tune. “We see a lot of French flags out. There is still a little more fervor, it’s a public holiday so there may still be a little more people“, for Moncoutie.”When I’m in the breakaway, I feel the crowd behind meslips Barguil. I had the polka dot jersey as well. I wouldn’t say it was pressure, but it carried me. It was awesome. When I think back on it, it remains a very strong memory.“
What could be more unforgettable for a Frenchman than hanging on to the July 14 stage? Not much. But in some cases, the place weighs even more heavily than the date. In this register, nothing equals Alpe d’Huez. This club has only four French members: Bernard Hinault, the first, in 1986, then, in quick succession, Pierre Rolland (2011), Christophe Riblon (2013) and Thibaut Pinot (2015). That is four successes in 30 stages at Alpe, but three of the last four.
Sportingly, it’s another thing to triumph on the heights of Bourg d’Oisans than on July 14, even if, as Barguil reminds us, “July 14, it’s rarely a flat stage, it’s not easy in general“. But it’s almost always less difficult than a finish in Alpe. To sum up, almost any French runner can dream of raising his arms on July 14 one day or another. Alps, probably not.
Rolland was flying: his royal arrival at Alpe in 2011
Riblon: “If I had to choose only one victory on the Tour, I would have chosen the Alpe”
Christophe Riblon wouldn’t trade his 2013 victory for anything in the world for a July 14 bouquet, as he told us: “Never ! I’m absolutely sure not. In the other direction, I would have exchanged, that’s for sure. Alpe d’Huez is one of the mythical passes, of the legend of cycling. In the history of cycling, we remember those who won on such and such stages, we don’t remember those who won on July 14th. It doesn’t matter which way you put the question, it’s Alpe.”
For the former rider of the AG2R team, nothing can be placed above Alpe d’Huez. “Sif I had to choose only one victory on the Tour, I would have chosen the Alpe, he assures. I have been watching cycling for 6-8 years, these are the images that I keep in mind, this ascent, this public around, the fervor. If there was any hesitation, it would be, in a different profile, with the arrival on the Champs-Elysées.”
Riblon, the victory of a lifetime: his success in Alpe d’Huez in 2013
Yet relatively young in the history of the Tour, since it only appeared for the first time in 1952 before returning to the course a quarter of a century later, Alpe d’Huez crushes everything. Pierre Rolland, Bernard Hinault’s distant successor, also recalled last year in Ouest France this revealing exchange with Andy Schleck: “Once, we did a cross interview with Andy Schleck. He told me that he was exchanging his Galibier and his Tourmalet for my Alpe d’Huez. This is to give an idea of the value of this climb.”
Nothing therefore equals the Alpe, which sits enthroned in its own mythology. But not much can compete with the emotion of a victory on July 14 for a Frenchman. Thursday, one and the other could accompany each other. It would then undoubtedly be a milestone for tricolor cycling. Like the fusion of two dreams in the same fantasy.
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