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Warren Barguil: “I’ve tried to leave, but it doesn’t work”

Brittany is especially prominent on the route of this year’s Tour de France, with the grand départ in Brest one of a total of four stages visiting the region’s four departments. And although the record number of fourteen Breton participants set in 1958 is safe for another year, the 2021 peloton will still contain around ten local riders who are each set to experience a unique mixture of emotion and pride. Some of them tell all about their home region, from their childhood memories to their relationship with the local culture – while never straying too far from the subject of cycling.

Warren Barguil is the only rider to have enjoyed a stage win at the Tour de France, thanks to two victories on his way to claiming the polka dot jersey at the 2017 edition. A win on home soil would taste especially sweet for the man from Morbihan who, away from his bike, has developed a genuine passion for the ocean.

Born: 28 October 1991 in Hennebont, Brittany

Teams: Bretagne-Schuller (2011), Argos-Shimano (2012-2013), Giant-Shimano (2014), Giant-Alpecin (2015-2016), Sunweb (2017), Fortuneo-Samsic (2018), Arkéa-Samsic (2019-2021)

Notable results:

2009: French junior champion, winner of the Tour du Morbihan (junior race), 2nd in the Classique des Alpes (junior race)

2010: winner of the Grand Prix d’Auray

2011: stage winner at the Tour de l’Avenir (5th in the general classification), winner of the Grand Prix de Lanester

2012: winner of the Tour de l’Avenir, winner of the Essor Basque, stage winner at the Tour de Franche-Comté and the Tour des Pays de Savoie

2013: double stage winner at the Vuelta

2016: 3rd in the Tour de Suisse, 6th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 8th in the Tour de Lombardie

2017: double stage winner at the Tour de France (10th in the general classification, winner of the polka dot jersey), 8th in Paris-Nice

2019: French champion, 10th in the Tour de France, 2nd in the Arctic Race of Norway

2020: 4th in the Flèche Wallonne, 9th in the Critérium du Dauphiné

2021: 5th in the Flèche Wallonne

Record at the Tour de France: 2015, 14th / 2016, 23rd / 2017, 10th / 2018, 17th / 2019, 10th / 2020, 14th

A corner of Brittany

There are several representatives from Brittany in this year’s Tour, but Warren Barguil is the only member of the peloton from the department of Morbihan: “My town is Lorient, as I was born in Hennebont – which is about 15 kilometres away – and then spent all my childhood in the village of Inzinzac.” It was in this area that a young Warren first discovered BMX, before progressing to the road and becoming a member of the Lanester cycling club. The more we trace his personal and professional journey, the clearer it becomes how much this part of the world means to him. “I spent a year in Quimper, while my girlfriend was studying there,” he explains, justifying the decision to temporarily abandon his department. “You could say that it’s a bit more Breton there, and it’s very charming because there are more of those lovely stone houses than in Lorient, which was decimated during the war. But the climate in Lorient is much better. Then I spent a year in Nice, to see if I could acclimatise. I came back because I love my region and I’m proud of it. I’ve tried to leave, but it doesn’t work.”

For the moment, Barguil has unpacked his bags, his furniture and his bikes just a few kilometres from his childhood home: “Now I’m living in Kervignac, right next to the bridge that the Tour peloton will cross after the start of the third stage. It’s a wonderful place, where you really feel like you’re living life to the rhythm of the tides. More generally, the whole coastline leading to Quiberon is lovely, and perfectly doable for cyclists of all levels.”

The Breton spirit

For Barguil too, Hinault remains the yardstick against whom all others are measured: “More than anyone, he represents what it is to be a true Breton. We’re all a bit blinkered and stubborn, like him. What I like about him is the guts that he shows in sticking to his guns. He says what he thinks and he says it to your face.” The strength of character displayed by the Badger is one of the main traits associated with the people of Brittany. Warren also feels a strong connection to his maritime surroundings. “I’m not talking about the sea, but the ocean,” he says. “There’s a big difference. The tides, the waves: this isn’t the Mediterranean, it’s much more alive. Boats are very important to us. It’s one of my hobbies. But I’m only a coastal sailor, I go fishing with friends.” Proud of Lorient’s reputation as a centre for sea sports, the cyclist has even been known to ride in the company of Franck Cammas, the yachtsman from Aix-en-Provence who has been adopted by the Bretons as one of their own.

A cycling region

Whether we consider Lucien Petit-Breton to be a true Breton or not – he was born in Plessé in the Loire-Atlantique department, which is no longer part of the administrative region – riders from Brittany still account for around 10% of all Tour de France winners, thanks to the achievements of Robic (1947), Bobet (1953-’54-’55) and Hinault (1978-’79-’81-’82-’85), in addition to Petit-Breton himself (1907-’08). Yet according to Barguil, the best way to feel the region’s passion for cycling is to immerse oneself in the unique atmosphere of youth racing in Brittany, a world away from those prestigious victories. “It’s competition time every weekend: the kids are raring to go, and the parents are raring to go too. It’s amazing, a bit crazy even. Unlike in other regions, you never have to drive more than an hour to find a race.”

The thrill of the competition has been a part of the Lorient native’s life since the age of 14, and as a junior he experienced the joy and emotion that comes with a home victory – at the Tour du Morbihan, a race that finished in none other than Hennebont. The moment remains etched into his memory for several reasons: “It was obviously amazing, especially since I’d just come from winning the French junior championship. It was a solo attack: initially I was in a breakaway with Teruia Krainer, then I dropped him on the last lap. My friends were there, my family, it was great. I was already with my wife, I was 17 years old and it was the beginning of our story.”

The Tour in Brittany

Watching the Tour go by for the first time is another ritual for children in Brittany. Naturally, Warren was accompanied by his father Denis, who had joined the Lanester club many years before him, when he went to watch the time trial from Lanester to Lorient in 2002. “We made sure to stand on an uphill stretch of false flat, so they didn’t go by too fast,” he recalls. “At the time I was into BMX, but I still watched the Tour every summer. That’s what made me want to give cycling a go. It’s like Roland-Garros: when I watch a match there, I feel like playing tennis.”

Many years down the line, Barguil joined the peloton, making a foray into Brittany during his first Tour in 2015 and then returning to even more familiar surroundings in 2018, for the stage from Lorient to Quimper. “It feels very strange, crazy even, to be back on your training roads during the world’s biggest race. In 2018, the stage literally started from my home. I didn’t have much choice, of course, I had to stay with the main group, but I enjoyed the day. It’s heart-warming to see so many banners with your name, fans supporting you the whole way.”

2021: nothing is off-limits

In 2017, Warren Barguil ended a run of 24 years without a stage win by a Breton rider (Pascal Lino in Perpignan in 1993) when he tasted victory in Foix. A few days later, he repeated the trick on the Col d’Izoard. But there is an even longer drought that has still yet to be broken, stretching back to the last time a homegrown rider won in Brittany (Bernard Hinault on the prologue in Plumelec in 1985). The Arkéa-Samsic rider weighs up his chances with a mixture of pragmatism and desire: “The first two stages won’t suit the sprinters. But we have to be realistic, it’ll be tough to beat Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel. I’m not putting up the white flag just yet, but the planets will have to be aligned. You never know, everything can change in the last couple of hundred meters. I can see Michael Matthews being there or thereabouts on the first stage, because it’s steep to start with but then the gradients aren’t so bad. The stage on the Mûr-de-Bretagne is certainly more open. It’s a question of legs, but also of timing.”

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