From swansong to maiden conquest: The French riders are thriving in the Tour's trip to Italy

Despite Romain Bardet relinquishing the yellow jersey, France continued one of its finest ever starts to the Tour de France with another unexpected victory

It may have been a bad day for Romain Bardet, but it was still a great day for the French riders in this year’s Tour de France. The nation celebrated their second consecutive stage win in the much-celebrated Grand Départ in Italy, and are undoubtedly getting off to one of their best Tour starts in recent history.

Just yesterday 33-year-old veteran Bardet, not only won the stage, but captured the yellow jersey for the first time in his career. And today it was 23-year-old Kevin Vauquelin who scored his first stage victory in the Tour, after dropping what remained of the breakaway on the Colline di San Luca and soloing to victory in downtown Bologne.

“I wanted to take part in the Tour. That was the original dream,” Vauquelin said after the finish. “But deep inside I knew I could win a stage, so now to actually win one is amazing, and for the team as well – that just makes me incredibly happy.”

Indeed for the modest Arkéa-B&B Hotels team, to win a stage in the Tour is nothing short of a stunning success—little matter that it didn’t actually happen on their home turf.

Tour de France 2024 stage two

Vauquelin only confirmed a strong Classics campaign with his first stage win in the Tour de France.

“In the landscape of cycling today, there are three or four teams that really dominate, so for us to win a stage in the Tour is the Holy Grail,” an obviously elated Emmanuel Hubert said on French television, while Vauquelin was still on the victory podium. For the long-time manager of the Arkéa-B&B Hotels, nothing could be sweeter than win in the world’s biggest bike race. After all, his team, while respectable, has struggled to truly establish themselves since joining the ranks of the WorldTour just last year.

In many ways, Bardet’s victory yesterday was swansong, as the veteran Frenchman, who twice finished on the podium, recently announced that this would be his last Tour de France. Vauquelin’s victory in contrast, was a performance full of promise, confirming his second-place finish in the Flèche-Wallonne this spring.

In many ways today’s final climb to San Luca was tailor made for the puncheur and was not unlike that of the Mur de Huy in the Flèche Wallonne. Vauquelin played it perfectly.

Nul n’est prophète en son pays, the French like to say, no one is a prophet in his own country. And the saying is ringly loudly for the French in this year’s Tour de France. Perhaps the Tour should come to Italy more often.

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