INTERVIEW: WARREN BARGUIL
The polka dot jersey winner on going to this year’s Tour as leader of a home French team
By breaking his contract with Team Sunweb to become the leader of Fortuneo-Samsic, Warren Barguil took the unusual step of leaving a WorldTour squad for a ProConti team, and he says he has no regrets in doing so. But why was last year’s Tour King of the Mountains so convinced this was a good idea?
Avisit by the Tour de France to a rider’s home town, making him the regional
de l’étape, is always a memorable experience. But in the case of Warren Barguil, when the Tour visits his native Brittany this year, the feelings will be particularly intense. Barguil won the King of the Mountains jersey riding for Team Sunweb last year, along with two stages, one in the Pyrenees and one in the Alps – a rare combination. But he quit Sunweb at the end of 2017 to join the Breton ProContinental team Fortuneo-Samsic. The 26-year-old was so determined to move on that, by mutual agreement, he ended his contract with the German team a year early.
The Frenchman’s decision to drop down from the WorldTour to cycling’s second division surprised many, particularly given Barguil’s Tour success constituted the high point of his career so far. Fortuneo and Sunweb are also very different teams. Sunweb, while capable of sweeping success in the grand tours, have always given the impression of being one of the quirkier teams in the WorldTour. Their retro blackand-white kit, Laurens ten Dam’s wellpublicised dreams of spending his retirement running a foodtruck in California, the team’s high proportion of polyglot, Euro-savvy Dutch and German riders, and Simon Geschke’s immaculately trimmed beard probably all have something to do with that.
Fortuneo-Samsic, on the other hand, are a much more classically structured, unpretentious, what-you-see-is-whatyou-get, mid-level French squad. As well as offering Barguil sole leadership in the Tour, Fortuneo is also a Breton squad. For Barguil, whose deep attachment to his home region is well-known - and according to local journalists, is quite rare in people of his age - the chance to be the top Tour rider in his local side was too good to miss.
“It’s like Mikel Landa going to Movistar after so many years racing for foreign squads, but in my case, it’s even more of a kind of homecoming” Barguil explains to Procycling. “Because if he’s Basque and Movistar is Spanish, I’m a Breton going to a Breton team, too.” “What’s more, I was a stagiaire with the team before signing for Argos-Shimano [now Sunweb]. So there was less risk of any misunderstanding. They know what I’m like as a racer, and I know what they are like. Signing for them gave me the chance to race the Tour in my home region this year for a home team. It’s the second time I’ll have been to Brittany in the Tour. I was already there in 2015, and I was wearing the white jersey because Peter Sagan, who was the top rider in that classification, was leading the points classification at the same time and I was running second.”
“So for me, the 2015 Tour in Brittany was very special, even if it was only wearing a leader’s jersey I’d ‘borrowed’. I was not at all well-known in Brittany. But this time round I think there will be a ‘vrai fête’ [real party] for me in towns like Lorient. And on top of that, we’ll go up the Mûr de Bretagne again, a climb where I watched one of the riders who’s most inspired me, Alberto Contador, come close to winning in 2011. That’s going to be a great day.”
The Tour’s visit to Brittany might well have influenced Barguil’s decision to sign for Fortuneo-Samsic, but given the race’s incursion into Barguil’s home terrain is only three days long, it’s far from being the only reason.
Another is that Sunweb had arguably become a victim of their own success, meaning Barguil’s chances of making the Tour line-up each July were surprisingly precarious. According to knowledgeable Dutch sources close to the team, the new rules about one rider fewer per team in the grand tours, the squad’s heightened focus on Tom Dumoulin in the grand tours, and Michael Matthews being the defending champion in the green points jersey, all meant that Barguil’s mountain ambitions this July were almost surplus to requirements. Sunweb similarly had no qualms in losing names as big as Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb in the past, so there was a precedent to the team shedding some top stars without blinking too hard.
Barguil had been thinking hard about quitting. “I was very happy there, but a lot of my team-mates that I liked were leaving
at the end of 2017,” he says. “It felt like the end of a chapter in my career. At the same time Fortuneo-Samsic have a great infrastructure, but they were lacking a leader for the Tour, the role I hope to play.”
Barguil denies that an infamous incident in the 2017 Vuelta a España, when he was expelled from the squad’s line-up for allegedly failing to work for team-mate Wilco Kelderman, had had any influence on his departure. However, he still refuses to discuss what happened. Barguil was apparently badly hurt by the team’s decision to exclude him and he only took part in two more races for Sunweb.
Possibly, at most, the Vuelta incident simply confirmed to Barguil he had chosen the right time to move on. “People thought my winning two stages in the Tour de France had a big effect on me leaving,” Barguil says. “But in fact, the idea of leaving started to come together in the Dauphiné. I had been injured so I had had a lot of physical problems.
“The team told me they wanted me to stay before the Tour. So when I told Peter [Reef, Team Sunweb’s PR manager] in June that I wanted to quit, he found it hard to understand. But I told him it was happening whatever. They were very respectful of my choice, and they could have told me I wouldn’t do the Tour. But they didn’t. I did a pre-Tour training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada and the team were happy to pay for that. There was a lot of mutual respect; it was always as if I was going to continue with them in 2018. And
I went on racing with them after the Vuelta. So it wasn’t like telling them I was leaving was the end of the story.”
From the Breton team’s point of view, the region’s top rider deciding to leave Sunweb to join them must have felt like Christmas had come early, particularly after Barguil’s runaway success in the Tour. Barguil has not come alone, either. As well as the osteopath with whom he has worked since his earliest days at Shimano, Fortuneo have signed Amäel Moinard, a friend of Barguil’s previously racing with BMC. “I’d always wanted Amäel to sign for Giant, and now we’re together, which is great,” Barguil says. “They’ve also brought in Yvon Ledanois as a new director, too, from BMC. Yvon is hugely experienced - he’s directed top guys like Cadel Evans in the Tour. He’ll know exactly what we’ve got to do to stay calm and work well there.”
Even if the team was familiar to Barguil, there have been some teething difficulties in 2018. This spring Barguil admitted it was proving tough to adapt to Fortuneo’s Look bikes, after years of riding on Giants. As we went to press, he also hadn’t yet won a race - although this isn’t unusual. Barguil has won only four races as a pro – two Vuelta stages and two at the Tour.
What,then, can he achieve in this year’s Tour? “I’m not going to rule out the overall in the Tour in case it turns out at the end of the first week that I am going well there.” Barguil says. But when asked if he would sign a piece of paper that guaranteed him the same two stage wins and King of the Mountains again at the finish, he admits, “I’d sign it straightaway”. “The most important thing is that here in Fortuneo-Samsic, I have room for manoeuvre to do what I want, attack when I want. I can really imagine going for the polka-dot jersey, because being on the attack is the kind of racing I like, rather than trying to conserve a position overall. That was how I was best known as a young rider, as a constant attacker, and that’s often how I’ve best progressed, too,” he continues. “The other French guys can concentrate on the overall, and someone like Romain [Bardet], who has already been able to get on the podium twice, is an amazing achievement, could do more in that area.
“Why not go for the polka dot jersey one more time? Really, I don’t give a monkey’s about trying to be the top French rider in the Tour. If I’m going to be first in something, I want to be the first in the world,” he concludes, emphatically.
In the mountains of the Tour, Barguil certainly knows how to do that. If he were to do it in a Breton team, though, it will surely feel even more special.
The lone igure of Barguil on his way to a stage win atop the Col d’Izoard last year
Barguil has been handed the team leader’s reins at Fortuneo this year