Today I give you a new term, the F-Bomb. No, not the one you used when you heard that the Sporting Chicken rolled out Pedro Delgado ("My start time is when?!") to rep the 100th maillot jaune. No, this is something else. This is the sensation of a French rider exploding into the cycling world's consciousness with a wicked ride at the Tour de France. Remember Thibaut Time?
Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. OK, Marc Madiot stepped on the lede here, but still, it was a great and exciting ride.
And with the Coming Potential French Petite Re-Hegemony, the byproduct of a growing list of French riders who can do something exciting in the upcoming 2013 Tour de France, we consider now where the F-Bombs will come from. Will there be French riders climbing magically up the general classification, once a very French affair before being acquired piece by piece by American, British, Australian and Spanish investors? Will French riders storm the front of the most exciting stages, taking home a piece of precious turf to the masses of the Fraternité du Vélo? Will french riders ascend to the podium to accept some of the other jerseys the Sporting Chicken is knitting for the Tour's array of specialists? Let's take a look around.
First, I shall establish that the French cupboard was indeed bare for some time. I will not answer why, mind you, for that is a much-discussed and never-answered question. All I can tell you for certain is that despite the fallow seasons French people have not forgotten how to ride a bike. But they did forget how to produce the next Patron. No French rider has won the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985, and while stage wins and polka dot jerseys were something the home fans could count on in the dark years of the 90s and early 2000s, by 2005 things were getting bad. That edition yielded only a single stage win -- David Moncoutie's annual Bastille Day romp -- and no secondary jerseys, along with nobody in the top ten on GC. French prospects have been limping along since then (and before), with the odd stage win, the appearance of an Anthony Charteau in spots or Tommy Voeckler in yellow for a spell, and with the top GC contender finishing miles in arrears of the champions.
By 2012 the tide was clearly turning, however. French riders scored five stage wins, second only to the dominant British contingent (7 wins), won the mountains prize (Voeckler) and put two riders in the top ten on GC. Not just two guys there by accident or process of elimination, but actually intriguing riders Pinot and Pierre Rolland. I'm no expert on the point where French fans get truly hooked on their guys, but if it were me, I'd feel a whole lot differently about the present reality than I would have five years ago. So, with that background and some preliminary startlists, let's poke around to see what's in store for potential F-Bombs in 2013.
Provisional startlist: Bardet, Bouet, Dumoulin, Dupont, Gadret, Hutarovich, Kadri, Mondory, Nocentini, Peraud
Bardet Hutarovich is the sprinter, Gadret the GC guy unless Peraud or Mondory get hot early on.
F-Bomb Potential: Non-obvious. Kadri won Roma Maxima with a combination of skills and the guts to launch a long(ish) solo bid. Bardet would be making his Tour debut, all of 22 years old, so I wouldn't get impatient with him if he gets stuck in the pack. Plenty of veteran juice but until they get Carlos Betancur Tour-ready, AG2R won't make enough waves.
Theme: "Does this brown kit make me look old?"
Provisional startlist: Bagot, Coppel, Edet, Garcia, Le Mevel, Mate, Navarro, Poulhies, Taaramae
Basic Plan: Coppel and Taaramae for the GC. Poulhies is the B-list sprinter. Navarro is the distracting decoy.
F-Bomb Potential: Le Mevel will win a stage, mark my words. Mate might too, since nobody will pay attention to him. This is a pretty solid set of climbers, all told. So how will they fuck it all up?
Theme: "The Little Engine That Could"
Provisional startlist: Bouhanni, Casar, Fedrigo, Geniez, Jeannesson, Offredo, Pinot, Roy, Soupe
Basic Plan: Be everywhere, all the time. For Offredo, to finish the race.
F-Bomb Potential: Tons. Possibly a world record. Or at least the most since Jeff Bernard was last considered a potential Tour winner. Pinot is the living embodiment of the term F-Bomb. Chances are, a lot of envious riders will be sitting on his wheel, hoping to get in the picture. If Offredo did anything, following years of crashes and discipline (and a DNF in Switzerland today), it would be a huge story; the potential is still there. Casar will finish high up and threaten for a stage, but won't generate much heat. Geniez win a stage? Jeannesson stalking the podium? Then we'd bring the heat. Finally there's Bouhanni, who comes into his first Tour with a nice leadout squad and a reputation for getting a little freaky in the bunch gallops. No gallops are bunchier (or nervier) than the Tour's. So Bouhanni could wind up inspiring the wrong kind of F-bombs.
Theme: "Like the ceiling can't hold us"
Provisional startlist: El Fares, Engoulvent, Feillu, Galland, Hivert, Pauriol, Simon
Basic Plan: Flood the sprints. Even Feillu can sprint (OK, it's Brice, but for a climber...). Hivert is plan A.
F-Bomb Potential: In stages. Since they all know how to finish, the key is to lose 30 minutes each right away and start staffing all the small breaks. Same for Feillu in the mountains. Hey! KOM anyone?
Theme: "Good things to those who wait"
Provisional startlist: Charteau, Coquard, Gaudin, Gautier, Malacarne, Rolland, Turgot, Veilleux, Voeckler
Basic Plan: Get Rolland up the GC ladder. Let Voeckler do whatever the hell he wants.
F-Bomb Potential: Pretty significant. Of course, whatever Voeckler does will be greeted with polite applause outside of his hardcore, grit-loving fans. We've seen that show before. But Gautier is improving, Gaudin has excellent stage potential, and if Rolland can build on last year's excellence, Voeckler might have to chase down his own mates for some TV time. Or go on some heroic solo efforts, giving the kids an armchair ride in the peloton. Really, though, if Rolland is sniffing the top five, France will be all a-dither.
Theme: "Takes a lickin, keeps on tickin"
French riders abroad: Chavanel, Sicard, Moinard, Hupond, Huguet, the other Feillu
F-Bomb Potential: Chavanel will be stage-hunting, for certain, and the undulating opening week could create some chances for him, where the pack maybe doesn't chase down every move and the undulations aren't too massive. None of this will be easy, of course. A later, everyone's-exhausted stage might be more ripe for the plucking. Hupond could go for polka-dots. Feillu is now C-list and free to join the early break.