Two stage wins in the Vuelta means a remarkable début for Warren Barguil in the pro peloton. This time last year he was an amateur but with a difference as he’d just won the Tour de l’Avenir overall. And the mountains jersey. And the points jersey. And a stage win.
Before this he’d been national champion and first caught the eye of Argos-Shimano managers when they mistook him for a Colombian. Who knows where he’ll go but here’s a quick look at where he’s come from.
Born in October 1991, Barguil is from Hennebont in Brittany, the region of France that pokes west into the Atlantic. It’s a hotbed of cycling where every village seems to have a bike race and where huge crowds gather for the Tour de France every year. His father is amongst these, a former first category rider, the equivalent of today’s elite category. Barguil started cycling on a BMX but switched to the road as a cadet or
U-16 U-17 and started winning as a junior with local club AC Lanester.
“He reminds me of Richard Virenque”
Pierre-Yves Chatelon, coach of the French junior team, Vélo Magazine
A comparison to a man whose name rhymes with dopage is not you’d want. But coach Chatelon was paying a real compliment by saying Barguil’s an attacking rider with plenty of character, that he’s not afraid to attack. If you want to know more, you can see what he means in the Vuelta as each stage win has been won à la pédale, by attacking rather than sniping for a surprise. He was French junior champion in 2009.
By the end of the 2011 he was a stagiaire with the pro continental Bretagne-Schuller team and was offered a place on the pro team but he decided to stay on as an amateur for one more year, a wise choice for a 19 year old and he told French website Velo101 it was all about building up a base before turning pro. But he was proving able to mix it with the pros, for example winning the final stage of the Tour de l’Avenir.
For 2012 he was a regular on the French U23 national team whilst also riding for the CC Etupes amateur team in eastern France and coached by Julien Pinot, elder brother of FDJ’s Thibaut. By the end of the year he started as a stagiaire with Argos-Shimano and won the Tour de l’Avenir on a team-issue Felt bike.
The way he was signed is interesting as France’s Vélo Magazine recounts how Christian Guiberteau, one of the managers at Argos-Shimano, was at the Tour de L’Ain in 2011. He followed a breakaway on the Grand Colombier with its 14% slopes he spotted a rider coming across:
“He was wearing a white jersey and with his build and his climbing style I thought it was another Colombian”
Christian Guiberteau, Argos-Shimano
Only it was Barguil wearing the white jersey as the best young rider in the race. He finished the Tour de l’Ain with this prize ahead of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet and it was more than enough to interest Guiberteau.
The move to the Dutch team was a concern. There are plenty of promising French riders who don’t do well on French teams but a few riders had said their time with the squad didn’t work out, that it was harder to fit in. See Alexandre Geniez for example. But Barguil has obviously thrived and learned English along the way too. Barguil is a climber with his tall frame of 1m83 (6ft for imperialists) and 60kg (132lb) but with a difference in that he’s confident when it comes to a sprint finish but also before as he’s happy to rub shoulders and fight for position. We got a glimpse of this in the Tour of Turkey when he was helping Marcel Kittel win stages as part of their leadout although this meant getting injured during the big crash on Stage 2. He’s done well along the way, fourth in the Rund um Köln and a top-20 finish in the Dauphiné despite having a few health problems.
Barguil’s success counts a lot for the team. Kittel might be a sprint star but as loyal readers will know, you don’t get many UCI points for a stage win and Argos-Shimano need to rack up more given they sit in a modest 16th place on the current rankings. In other words Barguil’s wins will bring them more points but he can also take crucial points with a high GC placing; not in the Vuelta of course but in other races next year.
The worry now is that he gets buried under a landslide of media coverage and squashed by pressure. Chance would be a fine thing. The Vuelta barely registers in France so for now Barguil’s media profile is restricted to the cycling media unlike Thibaut Pinot who had to deal with national expectations this year following his Tour de France performance in 2012. It’s easy to imagine the “next Bernard Hinault” label weighing him down given the arithmetic short cut of “Breton” plus “winning cyclist” instantly equates to musteline comparisons. But luckily Barguil doesn’t have to carry the weight of a nation on his back. Thibaut Pinot is there to take some of the load whilst Romain Bardet is seen as France’s biggest prospect by some. But we’ve seen just Alex Geniez win too and FDJ team mate Kenny Elissonde is impressing too. All this is before we think of Bryan Coquard, Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni to name just three sprinters.
More realistically he’ll be working on his time trialling this winter but hopefully this doesn’t stop him from displaying the headstrong riding that’s been working so well in the Vuelta.
Finally just as he’s had to learn English to talk to his team mates, make sure you know how to say his name.