IN­TER­VIEW: WAR­REN BAR­GUIL

Once the great young hope of the French, the Bre­ton rider will tar­get stage wins in 2017

Procycling - - Contents - WRITER SAM DAN­SIE IM­AGE BETTINI PHOTO

War­ren Bar­guil won two stages of the Vuelta as a first year pro in 2013. The only rider to have since equalled, and ad­mit­tedly bet­tered that achieve­ment is Fernando Gaviria, who took three WorldTour wins in 2016. But Bar­guil’s bald results don’t do jus­tice to his swash­buck­ling verve in Spain that year. De­spite the ex­pec­ta­tions that ac­com­pa­nied the pre­vi­ous year’s Tour de l’Avenir win­ner, he fin­ished in the top 10 twice in the first 10 days. On stage 13 he in­fil­trated a strong break and at­tacked the rem­nants in the fi­nal kilo­me­tre to win. Three days later and full of bravado, he made an­other break and helped push the es­cape to the fi­nal climb to Formi­gal. At the bot­tom he at­tacked and rode up alone for more than 9km. He was joined by a more ex­pe­ri­enced fugi­tive, Sky’s Rigob­erto Urán, in­side the fi­nal kilo­me­tre. The rookie was wise to the Colom­bian’s im­me­di­ate at­tack, jumped on his wheel and won.

In 2014, many ex­pected Bar­guil to make his Tour de­but, but Ar­gos-Shi­mano built a sprint train for Marcel Kit­tel and there was no space. Dis­grun­tled but un­daunted, he re­turned to the Vuelta to test his GC cre­den­tials. He had a hard crash on stage 7, did sev­eral shifts for sprinter John De­genkolb and col­lided with the team car from Can­non­dale, leav­ing him­self with a sore and swollen knee, on stage 19. After all that he still came eighth over­all, aged 22. Con­sid­er­ing the field that year – Con­ta­dor, Ro­dríguez, Aru and Froome among them, all there and in form – it was an im­pres­sive re­sult. Plus, he was able to land a few at­tacks of his own late in the third week. “To be con­stantly con­cen­trat­ing dur­ing a three-week race takes a re­ally big ef­fort,” he said when Pro­cy­cling asked which of the two very dif­fer­ent Vuelta ex­pe­ri­ences gave him the most sat­is­fac­tion. “For some riders the vic­tory is the most im­por­tant thing, but for me, when you are top 10 in a Grand Tour it is such a big

achieve­ment. To be that fo­cused for 21 days is a real ef­fort and I was proud of my­self to make the top 10 in that Vuelta.”

You might as­sume that GC is what stirs Bar­guil now. Ever since 2013, he’s mostly been rid­ing stage races for the over­all. He was 14th in his Tour de­but in 2015. His high wa­ter mark came last year when he wore the leader’s jer­sey and fin­ished on the podium of a par­tic­u­larly weather-beaten Tour de Suisse – he seems to thrive in hard con­di­tions, which he puts down to an un­com­pro­mis­ing streak: “I’m a Bre­ton, we have a hard char­ac­ter,” he smiled. That was his first WorldTour GC podium. “It was a good race for me and I never imag­ined I would be on the podium,” he said.

The re­sult made him a touch overex­u­ber­ant ahead of his prin­ci­pal tar­get of a top-10 fin­ish and a run at the white jer­sey in the fol­low­ing month’s Tour. He pushed his in­terim train­ing too hard and ar­rived in the Manche for the start “cracked,” he said. Un­able to re­cover in time for the moun­tains, his am­bi­tions were soon scaled back and he fin­ished 23rd, with barely a foray off the front.

Bar­guil hasn’t won a race since that heady 2013 Vuelta. And he feels it acutely. “I miss the feel­ing of win­ning,” he has said. There are some mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances. Ill­ness and ac­ci­dents to name but two. The most no­to­ri­ous was when he was hit head-on by a car on the wrong side of the road, along with five team-mates, dur­ing a pre-sea­son train­ing camp in Jan­uary 2016. It could have been so much worse. He de­scribed the fact that he was still rac­ing as a mir­a­cle. He bounced back and got strong results in the hilly Clas­sics: ninth at Flèche, sixth at Liège. In 2015, he crashed hard on the Tour stage at La Pierre Sain­tMartin and he fin­ished the race with a frac­tured knee. Last year he aban­doned the Vuelta on stage 3 with si­nusi­tis. This year, he was ruled out of Mi­lan-San Remo with an an­kle in­jury, but again came back strongly, post­ing sixth at Flèche. Then the curse of Bar­guil struck again and he frac­tured his pelvis in a crash in the Tour de Ro­mandie on a sod­den sec­ond stage, re­turn­ing at the Dauphiné

At 25, ‘Wawa’ as he’s known, could hap­pily press on as a GC op­tion for Sun­web. There are surely un­tapped depths still to ex­plore, but in­stead he wants to re­dis­cover the win­ning sen­sa­tion and show that the flashy, at­tack­ing flair which greeted his arrival hasn’t been blunted by a lot of rac­ing for the over­all.

“I don’t race so much with panache be­cause of my fo­cus on the GC and I miss that,” he said. “So now, I will have more races in my pro­gramme that I can race like that first Vuelta where I go to win stages. That’s go­ing to be goal at the Tour,” he said with em­pha­sis.

The GC im­per­a­tive may have sup­pressed the at­tack­ing in­stinct, but when we met Bar­guil at País Vasco, it was ob­vi­ous that the thrill of at­tack­ing still burns within and he’s look­ing for­ward to spend­ing more time off the front of the bunch.

As Bar­guil looks to em­u­late the acts of Al­berto Con­ta­dor (see left), he be­lieves the pelo­ton is now in a more con­ducive mood for en­ter­pris­ing rac­ing.

“Look at the last few races,” he said. “In Mi­lan-San Remo we said for sure it will be a big sprint and it was not. In Paris-Nice, Con­ta­dor goes on the at­tack and al­most wins...” We in­ter­jected with a men­tion of Philippe Gil­bert’s 55km solo the day be­fore at the Tour of Flan­ders. “For sure,” he agreed. “It’s got re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause now some­one can go from 60km and they make it. That makes ev­ery­one think they can do some­thing sim­i­lar and win.

“It just feels dif­fer­ent. It’s like no­body is happy with sec­ond or third any more. Ev­ery­body wants to win. Ev­ery­body’s at­tack­ing and not think­ing ‘I have team-mates who can con­trol it.’”

Bar­guil thinks that one of the main rea­sons for this new at­tack­ing im­pe­tus in the big races is that there’s less em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of WorldTour points, since the UCI’s uni­ver­sal rank­ing sys­tem took prece­dence at the start of the sea­son. The pre­vi­ous sys­tem meant de­cent-to-good results car­ried a lot of points, which meant riders de­fended high po­si­tions rather than risk­ing ev­ery­thing for the win.

And as he sur­veys the pelo­ton, the French­man feels that he is get­ting to know the cul­prits likely to at­tack. “Take to­day,” he said of the first stage of the Basque Coun­try. “I was sure Tim Wel­lens would at­tack, 100 per cent sure. I knew why and when it would hap­pen. I just had this feel­ing. And take last year in this race: the Di­men­sion Data guy, Steve Cum­mings. I was with my team-mate Sam Oomen and I said to him, ‘Stay in the wheel of Cum­mings be­cause for sure he’s go­ing to at­tack.’ Sam didn’t and Cum­mings at­tacked and won. Some­how you just get to know the rider, what they are like and when they want to at­tack. It’s eas­ier when you know your ad­ver­sary.” In 2013 Bar­guil was the ju­nior mem­ber of French stage rac­ing’s big three, to­gether with Ag2r’s Ro­main Bardet and FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot. As well as be­ing more than a year younger than the other two, he ad­mit­ted that rac­ing for a for­eign team helped him avoid some of the pres­sure Pinot and Bardet faced in rid­ing for French teams. It’s also given Bar­guil the space in which to get used to the ex­pec­ta­tion of lead­er­ship. “I re­ally feel I am be­com­ing more and more of a leader, to speak dur­ing the meet­ing and able to mo­ti­vate the guys. It’s to­tally dif­fer­ent to two years ago,” he said.

Quite where Bar­guil fits in the grand scheme of French cy­cling now is dif­fi­cult to say. Since 2013, when France ap­peared to have three ex­cit­ing stage rac­ers in devel­op­ment, Bar­guil hasn’t yet hit the same high notes as Bardet and Pinot, par­tic­u­larly at the Tour. The older pair have both fin­ished on the podium, and Pinot par­tic­u­larly blos­somed at the Giro d’Italia this year, com­ing fourth, less than 90 se­conds from the pink jer­sey. More ur­gently, there are greener shoots be­neath, like Quick-Step Floors rider Ju­lian Alaphilippe and FDJ’s David Gaudu. But per­haps this year’s Tour de France route, filled as it is with traps and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the tac­ti­cally pro­fi­cient, will play to his strengths and re­mind fans of the at­tack­ing flair that was Bar­guil’s call­ing card when he first ar­rived on the scene.

It just feels dif­fer­ent. It’s like no­body is happy with sec­ond or third any more. Ev­ery­body wants to win

In the wars: Wawa has su fered from more than his fair share of crashes and bad luck

Bar­guil took not one but two stages at his de­but Vuelta a Es­paña in 2013

Bar­guil plans to ride an at­tack­ing Tour, and will hope to shine in the hilly stages which suit him

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