Over the coming season, I am going to highlight some of the 2013 class of neo-pros entering into the realm of professional cycling. Today, we start with Argos-Shimano's new French sensation Warren Barguil.
After winning the Tour de l'Avenir overall this past August, Warren Barguil was quite humble when asked about his win and future with Argos-Shimano. The Breton thanked his team profusely and even after winning the overall, points and mountain classifications in the race, he stated that he had more work to do in the mountains if he was going to compete on the next level. This was Barguil's biggest achievement to date but his talent has been evident for years.
Hailing from Hennebont, Morbihan (a mere 20km from Plouay), near the rugged coast of the Bay of Biscay, Barguil (born in 1991) grew up riding BMX and then transitioning to the road with the AC Lanester club. While he did not ride an international circuit as a junior, he posted 4 wins as a 2nd-year junior including the French National Championship and a 2nd place in the prestigious Classique des Alpes to Tim Wellens, now pro with Lotto-Belisol. Barguil was not an immediate standout in his first season on the espoir level either but he was no slouch, winning 3 mid-level French races along with other strong placings.
Barguil's riding style can only be described as attacking as he is relentless, almost to a fault as times. While he is built as a pure climber, measuring 1.82m and weighing just 62kg (5'11 and 137 pounds for the Americans in the crowd), he has the ability to drive on flatter courses. He was able to show these talents in 2011 as he took to a bigger circuit with increased competition and results came thick and fast. Barguil ran 4th overall in the Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay, a race usually dominated by time bonuses and sprint finishes, and followed up with strong performances at the Tour du Pays de Savoie against the likes of Nikita Novikov (now Vacansoleil) and Emilien Viennet (now FDJ).
Barguil rode to 6 victories in 2011 but his performances in late summer showed his true talents. Gaining a stagiaire position with home team Bretagne-Schuller, Barguil rode the Tour de l'Ain (WillJ country) and made waves with his performance. Finishing 6th on stage 2 against the likes of David Moncoutie, Jerome Coppel and others, Barguil, only 19 at this point, finished 11th on the steep slopes of Le Grand Colombier to finish 10th overall, beating the likes of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. Christian Guiberteau, now a manager with Argos-Shimano, remarked that he thought Barguil was a Colombian when he first saw his build and riding style that day on the Colombier. Barguil was not finished as he rode to an impressive breakaway stage win at the Tour de l'Avenir, beating Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre) and eventual GC winner Johan Esteban Chaves (Colombia), and to a 5th overall place. The climber that Guiberteau saw on Grand Colombier was a legitimate talent and Argos-Shimano (Skil-Shimano at the time) decided to sign Barguil to a contract for 2013-14 along with a stagiaire position in 2012. (Marc Madiot was miffed at this decision as he thought that his team, FDJ, would be a natural stopover.)
Along with his new contract, Barguil moved to the prestigious CC Etupes team for 2012. With this move, Barguil began working under Julien Pinot, brother of Thibaut Pinot and now the coach of both FDJ and CC Etupes, and flourished as one of the biggest talents in the 2012 class. Barguil rode to 13 victories during the season, all of which were in France, along with 16 other podium places. Barguil blew the doors off his competition on the big mountain stage at the Tour des Pays de Savoie, winning by nearly 2 minutes. He followed this performance up with a 3rd place overall at the Tour Alsace, bettered only by Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (SKY) and Alexander Pliuschin (former Ag2r and Katusha, now IAM). Barguil was one of the clear favorites coming into the Tour de l'Avenir this year and would have to go head to head with Colombian Juan Ernesto Chamorro, Italian Cattaneo along with a host of talented Russians. Barguil made his move on the 4th stage at the finish in the ski village of Valloire. After a series of attacks on the slopes prior, Barguil took advantage of a temporary misstep by his companions turning the wrong way and turned it into a stage victory.
Barguil went on to defend his slim lead with aplomb on the final two stages, riding comfortably in the mountains and showing the class of a rider much older than 20 years of age.
Finishing off the year with strong rides in the U23 Worlds RR (riding for eventual silver medalist Bryan Coquard), Gran Piemonte, Paris-Borgues and a long breakaway in the U23 Paris-Tours, Barguil finished his season off as strong as he started it. Even with his strong results in the last couple of years, there are question marks. First off is the question of how Barguil is going to perform riding for a foreign team. Argos-Shimano had to deal with a temperamental Alexander Geniez, who, while not the standout talent Barguil is, could have done a lot more with himself. There are the two recent examples of French wonders in Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, both of whom stayed at home with FDJ and Ag2r, respectively, and how they have gotten good results. In my opinion, it comes down to mentality. Geniez was documented as someone that liked to do his own thing, focusing more on his own results than that of the team, while Bardet has been spoken of highly, most recently by Jimmy Casper, about how professional he is for his young age. From everything that has been in the press, Barguil seems to know the challenges that are ahead of him and he is enthusiastic about it.
Secondly, it remains to be seen as to how Barguil will fit into Argos-Shimano's race schedule. With Degenkolb and Kittel being the main foci for Argos, Barguil will have to make his own opportunities during the season. Also, Argos is a very young team and Barguil does not have an older climber to use as a mentor and show him the ropes in the big leagues. In any case, Barguil seems very excited about his new team and new season. While expectations are not very high for the young Breton, there is a big chance that he could make a big impression in his freshman year.
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Photo 1: by Petit Brun Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike Generic 2.0
Photo 2: Wiki Commons