The world’s biggest cycling race is about to get underway. This Friday, in Copenhagen, eight riders from the Groupama-FDJ cycling team will tackle the Tour de France with a big goal in mind. Marc Madiot tells us all about it, while setting the outlines for the weeks to come and sharing his major source of concern.

Marc, what is your main feeling a few hours before the start of the Tour?

My main feeling is the hope to see my eight riders at the start without troubles! The Covid is back, and it is very worrying. This is surely the most important concern as we speak. We are ready to race, but we aren’t sure of anything. We had the feeling of slowly returning to quieter times, but since the Tour de Suisse, everything has started again. We put the masks back on, even though we hadn’t really put them away… We have to apply social distancing again. We are back to square one. For now, I’m not looking too far ahead. We have substitutes, if necessary, but they can be just as positive as the eight starters. We cross our fingers.

“Be as close to the podium as possible”

What are the team’s ambitions approaching this Tour?

We start with David Gaudu as the lone leader. The team will be supporting him on all the first stages, and we will see where we are at the end of the first week. As long as he’ll be in the mix, hopefully for long, the whole team will be by his side, including Thibaut and Stefan. Making David the leader was the natural next step, especially since Thibaut felt less capable of fighting on the cobbles or in the echelons than in the past. Everything happened naturally. David was ready to take on this role. Better, he claimed it.

So the goal is rather the general classification than the stage wins?

For now, we’re focused on that. I want the guys to fight for it, and the common thread is indeed the GC with David Gaudu. We will then take stock day after day. Besides that, one goal does not cancel the other out. If we’ve decided to set ourselves this goal, it is also because we are convinced that we have the means to achieve it. Potentially, we have guys who can play up front, so it would be silly not to try. We put ourselves in this situation because we really believe in it. David did a good Dauphiné, he was eighth in the Vuelta, eleventh in the Tour last year despite a hard day, and thirteenth when Thibaut was in a position to win. We know we can be competitive. David has recovery and climbing abilities well above average. In my opinion, David Gaudu is totally able to do something similar to what Ben O’Connor did last year. That’s the goal, it is clear, then we will see what happens.

What does “being competitive” means for you?

This means being as close to the podium as possible. We know that 2-3 riders are potentially a step above everyone else, but behind them, a group of ten riders can claim the podium, or be very close to it. We are part of this group. The goal of being on the podium remains possible. We don’t know how the first week will go, or what will happen from a health point of view. If all goes well, I don’t see why we couldn’t be in the mix. The first week of the Tour is often decisive, and it will surely be so for all teams this year. Whoever you are, you don’t know how you’re going to get out of all this, and the Covid will undoubtedly play its part in this Tour de France.

“One of the best teams we have ever lined up”

How did you build the team around David?

We selected guys capable of supporting him on all terrains, especially to protect him from the wind over the first eight days. Then, when the mountain comes, we should have the means as well, with Michael Storer and Thibaut Pinot in particular. It was not easy to build the team for the Tour, but it is actually better when it is complicated. This means that we have several cards in hand and many good possible options. It’s not ideal when you have no options and when you’re just happy to have eight guys at the start. I prefer to be in the situation of having more potential candidates than places available. On paper, it is certainly one of the best teams we have ever lined up, but we will have to overcome the obstacles and confirm it on the road.

What will Thibaut’s role be?

He will be there to work for David as long as David will be in the game and close in GC. If it is tighter at the top of the rankings, we’ll remain united around David. If the gaps widen and David is sixth at five minutes, it might not be the same thing. Thibaut Pinot’s evolution in this Tour will depend on this. Like Michael, Thibaut totally reassured us in recent weeks. He showed on the Tour de Suisse that he could be up there. Michael Storer is also on the rising curve, and Stefan Küng will definitely be up and running. The mountain will not be the same as in Switzerland (smiles), but we obviously expect a lot from him during the first week. He will be decisive, and he also recently gave good signs. In general, we are on the right track, we are satisfied with the current dynamic. It must keep on going on the Tour.

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