Procycling - - Contents - Writer: Alas­dair Fother­ing­ham Pho­tog­ra­phy: Kris to f Ra­mon*

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

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