You definitely never know what the future holds. At the start ofSierre, Switzerland, this Saturday morning, Bruno Armirail could not imagine that he would put on, almost five hours later, the iconic pink jersey of the Giro d’Italia in Cassano Magnago. Yet, this is not an illusion. Thanks to a large breakaway and a lethargic peloton, the French time trial champion did take control of the general classification on the Giro after stage 14. At 29, the rider from Bagnères-de-Bigorregrabbed a well-deserved reward for the work and sacrifices made over the years for his leaders. On Saturday evening, Bruno Armirail will dream in pink, and he will be the first Frenchman to do so since 1999.

A morning briefing and a green light for the break are enough to change a career. The day after a cruel second place for Thibaut Pinot at the top of Crans-Montana, the Groupama-FDJ team wanted to get back on track this Saturday on stage 14, which was made for the breakaway. The climb of the Simplonpass, located after forty kilometres, meant it was another opportunity for the early attackers. This time, Bruno Armirail had to join the fight. “Thibaut himself wanted to give him carte blanche today to thank him for what he had done the day before,” explained Sébastien Joly. The rider from Bagnères-de-Bigorre therefore took his responsibility, and he did not fail to enter the right move after about twenty kilometres of fierce racing. “I wanted to go in a breakaway for a while, but I had to stay with Thibaut for the last few days, said the Frenchman. Today, I was given the green light. At the head of the race, Bruno Armirail however found himself with nearly thirty opponents. The battle for the stage victory was therefore going to be tough, especially as someteams had the numbers. However, at the end of the Simplonpass’ downhill, another potential objective began to emerge quite unexpectedly. At this point, the peloton was indeed eight minutes behind and Geraint Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers did not seem to be willing to control the gap.

“I can’t believe it, it’s so big”, Bruno Armirail

Pink thoughts began to appear, as Bruno Armirail was the best-placed rider overall at the front of the race, 18’37 behind the Briton. “I thought about it quite earlyafter the descent,said Rudy Molard. It wasn’t going fast in the bunch, and I thought they could take a big lead if they got along in front. We were already twelve minutes behind with a hundred kilometres to go. Kilometre after kilometre, the odds did increase, and the peloton did not look like it was going to change attitude. In the breakaway, the fight for the day’s victory started with almost sixty kilometres to go, and Bruno Armirail initially remained focused on this single objective. Four men broke away from the group before the last hour of racing, and a power struggle began with the chasing group. About ten kilometres from the finish, the gap on the bunch approached twenty minutes, and Bruno Armirail was for thevery first time announced as the virtual leader of the Giro. Nevertheless, focused on the fight that was raging on the final hills of the stage, the Frenchman did not think of the pink jersey until quite late. “For me, it only became reality in thevery end, in the last five kilometres, he confessed. “Before, I didn’t really think about it, I thought a lot more about winning the stage. Unfortunately, I was a bit cooked in the end”.

Although he couldn’t compete for the win in the last minutes, the French time trial champion still gave his best within his chasing group to reach the finish as fast as possible, to hope for the pink jersey at the end of this surprising day. Fifteenth in the stage, fifty-three seconds behind the winner Nico Denz, Bruno Armirail then only had to wait. Though it was probably the most interminable wait of his career. The minutes went by, the peloton didn’t seem to accelerate, and as the bunch passed under the flamme rouge, Bruno Armirail could already smell the maglia rosa’s perfume. It was not official until a few moments later, but for one minute and forty-one seconds, the 29-year-old rider did take the lead in the general classification of the Giro this Saturday, May 20, 2023. “It wasn’t really the planhe said, amazed, in his first interview. Being eighteen minutes down this morning, I was very, very far from imagining taking the pink jersey tonight. We did say with Rudy that a breakaway could take fifteen minutes… But I was in there. I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it.” The idea of going for the pink jersey did cross Bruno Armirail’s mind at the start of the Giro, after his good opening time trial, but this fantasy now seemed to be long gone. “I had tried on stage 4and I was disappointed not to be in a good day, he resumed. “For me personally it was a dream, and I can’t believe it’s coming true after two weeks of racing. This is exceptional. It’s something great for the team too, after Thibaut’s second place yesterday. I try to enjoy it, but I can’t believe it, it’s so big.”

“We’ll enjoy it with him because he really deserves it”, Sébastien Joly

Two years after Attila Valter, the pink jersey returns to the team, but it is the first time since 1999 that a Frenchman getsto wear it. I’m really happy for Bruno, it’s well deservedsaid his teammate, Rudy Molard. “Since the start, we hold him back a bit regarding the breakaways. Today, he manageto take it and he got the pink jersey! On the evening of stage 14, it’s incredible”. “Bruno has been a very good domestiqueso far, and he proved it again yesterday with Thibaut, added Sébastien Joly. “Luckily, happilyhe takes the pink jersey. He seized this opportunity, and although the primary goalremains the one with Thibaut, it is a nice bonus, and it will give good energy to the group. We will enjoy it with him because he really deserves it”. On Saturday, a loyal gregario always working behind the scenes finally had his moment of glory. “It’s true that I work and sacrifice myself all year for my leaders, like yesterday for Thibaut, agreed the French time trial champion. “It’s a very nice reward for a team playerlike me who never wins, or very rarely. On the podium, I was also not super comfortable… (smiles) I am not used to opening bottles of champagne. It is something exceptional for the domestique I am to put on the pink jersey. I may not sleep with it, but this one will surely be framed and hung at home.”

Bruno Armirail now intends to make the most of his day in pink towards Bergamo on Sunday, but he does not refrain from extending the dream a little. “The stage is not easy tomorrow, and I’ll first have to recover well from today because it was a trying stage, he concluded. “It’s not a summit finish, so why not keep it? If I could be in pink on Tuesday morning for the start of the third week, it would be nice”. A former red jersey on the Vuelta himself, Rudy Molard will surely have some advice to give to his mate in the next hours: “I want to tell him to enjoy, because these are fleeting moments. You really need to open your eyes and enjoyevery second.”