Allez-y, Les Jeunes! (The coming French hegemony?)

Much of my childhood was spent in French schools, where I learned things that caused me some confusion in later life (Napoleon wasn't the good guy in the war against England? Jacques Anquetil wasn't a better bike rider than Eddy Merckx?). Because this early experience also shaped my cycling loyalties, I have suffered for the last couple of decades with the lack of French cycling stars. To be sure, there have been some successes, but no Grand Tour winners and no classic winners (also, the insufferable Richard Virenque). However, things are looking up! The under-25 French peleton is deep and strong. Let me make my case, using VDS data as the touchpoint.

First, I am defining "under-25" the same way they do in horse racing and orienteering (ask Jens about that last one). If you turn 25 any time in 2014, you count as being 25 for the whole year. This means that under-25 status doesn't change during the year, simplifying matters by restricting the riders to consider to those born in 1990 or later. The three top riders in this age group are clearly Peter Sagan (Slovakia), Nairo Quintana (Colombia) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland). Each of them practically constitutes a VDS team on his own, but none has even one compatriot under 25 who scored a VDS point last year (Rafal Majka was born in 1989). I had thought that Colombia would have a stronger group in this age category, but apparently not.

So looking at riders valued at more than one on the VDS rolls: Australia has Durbridge, Morton, Matthews, Dennis and Hepburn; the US has Phinney, Dombrowski, and Craddock; the UK has the Yates brothers; Spain has Jesus Herrada, Luxemburg has Bob Jungels, Sweden has Ludvigsson and Ahlstrand, and Denmark has Nielsen. But none of these countries could field even half of a VDS team with under-25 riders. That leaves the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and France.

Under-25 riders
with contract
VDS cost
VDS points
VDS points
7 March 2014
VDS position
7 March 2014
France 25 90 4378 530 222
Belgium 33 34 140 270 580
Italy 25 52 1577 240 632
Netherlands 21 42 1386 200 680

So who are these young French riders? You've already heard of many of them. Let's start with the 24-year-olds, those born in 1990 (there are too many to do in one post!).

Angélo Tulik – Europcar since 2012. Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Moulins, where Coco Chanel started her career as a cabaret singer, he took up bike racing at the age of 9 and joined the Vendée espoirs team when he turned 18. In 2011 he did well on the French amateur circuit, winning two stages and the overall of the Tour de Dordogne, with three other stage wins, and a podium in the U23 Paris-Tours. This got him a Europcar contract in 2012. He has two stage wins in SSSRs since turning pro, including Stage 4 of the 2013 Tour des Fjords.
Tulik is listed as a sprinter; he did team pursuit as a junior and is racing the cobbles this year.
2 December 1990; 1.76 m, 64 kg
VDS price/points/teams: 1/0/0
2014 CQ ranking/points: 527/5
Best results so far this year: 20th Trofeo Palma, 21st Haut Var stage 1.
Crashing in the Tour Down Under:

Clément Koretzky – Image and video hosting by TinyPicBretagne-Séché since 2013
Born in the Miramas region near the Mediterranean coast, Clément Koretzky started out in off-road cycling. At the age of 18, he won the junior category in the mountain biking Coupe de France, and was second in the cyclocross nationals. He gave up cycling in 2009 to study accounting, but returned in 2010 to ride on the road for Vélo-Sport Narbonnais. In 2011 he moved up to the Aix-en-Provence club and had three wins, including a stage of the Tour of the Aosta Valley. He joined La Pomme Marseille in 2012, and moved on to Bretagne-Séché in 2013; they are wild cards in several larger races, including the Tour de France, this year. His younger brother Viktor is a promising mountain biker.
He describes his riding style as "opportunist" (baroudeur) and/or puncheur, and he looks for breakaways.
30 October 1990; 1.74 m, 64 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 1/0/1
2014 CQ ranking/points: -/0
Best results so far this year: Best climber at the Étoile de Bessèges, 11th on a stage of the Tour de San Luis.
Interview at:

Axel Domont – AG2R since 2013 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Valence, a city in southeastern France with a good bike-sharing program and a history as an educational center that predates the Romans, Domont started as a BMXer and had success as a cyclocross racer as a junior. As an amateur, he rode for UC Aubenas and then Chambéry CF (which is associated with AG2R). Wins such as a stage of Tour of Tuscany in 2012 got him a stint as a stagiare with the pro team at the end of the year, followed by his first contract, again with AG2R.
He is listed as a climber, and may become an all-rounder.
7 August 1990; 1.79 m, 65 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 1/0/3
2014 CQ ranking/points: 209/32
Best results so far this year: second in the climbing classification in the Tour Down Under, 14th in stage 4 of the Étoile de Bessèges, 18th in the Trofeo Lagueglia., @domontaxel

Johan le Bon – Française des Jeux since 2013 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Lannion, a city on the coast of Brittany that is trying to revive schooling in Breton, Johan le Bon is the son of a professional cyclist (Dominique Le Bon rode for La Redoute in the 1980s). His amateur career was very successful; in 2008 he won the junior world championships and turned pro the following year, as a 19-year-old, with Bretagne-Schuller, and won the under-23 time trial championship of France twice. In 2013 he joined FdJ; his best result was second at the Tro-Bro-Léon, a race where his father was third twice, and he was third in the national time trial championships.
He is best described as a rouleur, and he likes the northern classics best.
3 October 1990; 1.80 m, 71 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 4/0/12
2014 CQ ranking/points: 300/19
Best result so far this year: 17th in the Omloop.
Interview produced by FdJ at:

Adrien Petit – Cofidis since 2011 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Arras, a small city in the far north of France that takes a strong interest in its web presence, "Adri" Petit is a contrarian: he keeps a low web profile, his French Wikipedia page is minimalist, and his last tweet was in 2012 (there is a fan club site, but it’s not very informative). He first came to international attention at the 2011 world championships as an under-23 rider when he led out Arnaud Démare for the win, and held on for second. His amateur team was Nogent-sur-Oise; he was a stagiare for Cofidis in 2010 and turned pro in 2011.
"Petit" is not a descriptive name; he is a rouleur who leaves a big slipstream and often does domestique duty. Not surprisingly, given his size, background, and strength, his best results tend to come in Belgium and in the north of France (two third places at Le Samyn, for example).
9 September 1990; 1.87 m, 80 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 2/0/35
2014 CQ ranking/points: 182/38
Best result so far this year: 5th in the Trofeo Palma.

Romain Bardet – AG2R since 2012 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Brioude, in the Massif Central (he is among the prominent people on the town’s Wikipedia page), he started cycling at age 8. In 2009 Vincent Lavenu (DS of AG2R) and moved on to the "farm team", CR4C Roanne. His progress continued, with a 2nd place at the U23 LBL and stage wins in espoirs races such as the Tour des Pays de Savoie and the Tour de L’Avenir. He then joined AG2R for the 2012 season. Although he did not have any wins that year, he figured prominently in the Flèche Wallonne, and was fourth overall in the Tour of Turkey and 12th in the Tour of Poland. In 2013, Bardet finished 15th (first French rider) at the 2013 Tour de France, won the Tour de L’Ain, and had many other strong results, making him the next big French stage racing hope. He is off to a roaring start in 2014.
His results fit his profile: a climber / puncheur.
9 November 1990; 1.84 m, 65 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 10/230/49
2014 CQ ranking/points: 26/158
Best results so far this year: first in La Drôme Classique; 4th in the Classique Sûd Ardèche.
Throughout his professional career Bardet has been working towards receiving the equivalent of an MBA from the Grenoble business school (due in 2015 if he stays on schedule).

Nacer Bouhanni – FdJ since 2010 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Épinal, Bouhanni grew up in the Vosges in a family of cyclists, so it’s not surprising that he started racing at the age of 6. He was part of several amateur groups, joining the Sarreguimines cycling club in 2006. In 2008, he joined the police corps and became the French police champion in 2009 and military champion in 2010, when he moved to the Troyes club. He didn’t get a chance to compete much as an espoir, as he joined FdJ by the end of 2010 and has ridden for them ever since. His first year as a pro seems to have been a chance to gain experience, but the wins started coming in 2012, most notably French champion. The wins and podium places just kept coming in 2013, and he has been at the front of the race often.
Bouhanni is part of FdJ’s "embarras de richesses" of sprinters; he seems to be considered more of a pure sprinter than Démare, and has ridden Grand Tours.
25 July 1990; 1.75 m, 65 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 12/100/50
2014 CQ ranking/points: 48/103
Best results so far this year: third at Le Samyn, first at stage 2 of the Étoile de Bessèges, plus several other podium places.
He missed a chunk of the 2013 season after a fall in Paris-Nice that resulted in broken ribs and teeth (his off-season training seems to consist of boxing).

Thibaut Pinot – FdJ since 2010 Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Born in Mélisey, a town of fewer than 2000 inhabitants tucked between the Vosges and the Jura, and started cycling with his father and older brother when he was eight. He was a prolific winner of climby and stage races as a junior, riding for the Étupes cycling club. In 2009, he was the youngest ever overall winner of the Tour of the Aosta Valley, taking the points jersey as well. Joining FdJ in 2010 he had immediate success: best climber in the Tour de Romandie, third on a stage of the Dauphiné, fifth overall in the Tour de L’Ain. The next year was similar, with wins in the Tour d’Alsace and high placings in other one-week tours. 2012 was a breakthrough year, with a memorable stage win in the Tour de France and 10th overall. The next year was quieter, but still included a 4th in the Tour of Switzerland and and a 7th in the Vuelta.
Pinot is a superb climber, but is held back by his descending. The difficulty is thought to be largely psychological; he had a bad fall as a junior, in which he broke both of his arms.
29 May 1990; 1.80 m, 63 kg
2014 VDS price/points/teams: 12/0/64
2014 CQ ranking/points: -/0
Best result so far this year: 53rd in the GP La Marseillaise @ThibautPinot

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