Despite pro cycling being a professional sport, with pro teams typically including a range of nationalities, cycling publications cannot help but be a little parochial. This year, for example, the Velo News official Tour de France guide had Levi Leipheimer on the cover after last year featuring George Hincapie (and the rather optimistic headline regarding his possible continuation of the Lance legacy).
And so it was for French publication Velo Magazine, which featured Rémy Di Grégorio from Française de Jeux and John Gadret from Ag2r. Also included in the feature story was William Bonnet from Credit Agricole.
Despite some impressive stage performances from French riders in recent Tours, and not forgetting Thomas Voeckler in 2004, there has not been a serious overall contender from the host nation for a number of years. This perhaps influenced Velo Magazine’s decision to focus its coverage on its climbers, in the expectation of a maillot à pois rouges win.
Di Grégorio has certainly attracted some attention recently, having been featured in the UK magazine Procycling, with the suggestion that he could be the next Richard Virenque (sans dopage, presumably). Only 22, he was signed as a pro at age 19. At 180 cm in height and 67 kg in weight he has the build to be a climber (although, according to Velo Magazine, not quite the beanpole of the 179 cm, 63 kg Sandy Casar, FdJ’s team captain).
He has had good results in his pro career so far, with a stage win last year in the Tour l’Avenir and an impressive ride this year in the Dauphiné Libéré where he took the KOM title.
Unfortunately, in his debut Tour this year, he did not even make it to the mountains and was forced out on only stage 4 with a broken elbow sustained in a crash.
Micheal Rasmussen, ‘The Chicken’, is certainly a lean climber with a classic lightweight build: 60 kg (132 lbs) for his 175 cm (8 kg lighter than this author for the same height). John Gadret tips the scales at an even lighter 58 kg (127 lbs) but is 5 cm shorter at 170 cm. Still, it is not much weight to have to propel up the steep climbs (Spaniard Manuel Calvente on Agritubel is apparently the slightest rider on this year’s Tour: 169 cm and 54 kg (119 lbs).
Gadret was last year’s French cyclo-cross champion, and scored three top-ten stage finishes in the 2006 Giro. Despite being 28 years old, he has only been a professional since 2004 and still has much to prove.
In the interview with Velo Magazine, Gadret expressed his hope to be able to escape on one of the mountain stages with Rasmussen – who he described as a true climber, un vrai grimpeur. That would indeed be a battle of the mountain men, although Gadret said that he would be happy to simply ride with Rasmussen rather than actually beat him.
So far in the Tour he has missed his first opportunity to make such an escape with Rasmussen, who was rampant on stage 8 to Tignes to have the KOM title now almost surely wrapped up, leading by 40 points over Sylvain Chavanel. Gadret finished 83rd, 29 minutes down.
As Rasmussen said after his stage win: “I am one of the best climbers in the world.” Quite. Still, on the cover of Velo Magazine, Gadret is holding a picture of stage 16, which finishes on the summit of the Col d’Aubisque.
There are three tough mountain stage in the Pyrenees, with stage 16 the toughest. Gadret will still therefore have his chance to show his climbing skills. But Rasmussen has already announced his intention to use the mountains as a possible springboard to take a podium spot or even the maillot jaune. Watch out!