Probable Leaders 2020: Thibaut Pinot, Arnaud Démare, David Gaudu, Stefan Küng, Marc Sarreau
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Thibaut Pinot, David Gaudu, Valentin Madouas, Stefan Küng
Hotness Rating 2020: Summery
2019 was the year that Thibaut Pinot became a genuine star. Prior to stepping off his bike in tears and slumping into the Groupama-FDJ team car on stage 19 of the Tour de France, Pinot had turned in a thrilling performance at the race, a masterclass of bravery and attacking mountain-goatery.
Pinot’s tandem with Julian Alaphilippe in July revitalised not just the Tour but French cycling as a whole. The duo were the protagonists of the sport’s biggest event and the main reasons that the 2019 edition was widely considered the best for a long, long time. Ineos and Egan Bernal may have taken the spoils, but Pinot and Alaphilippe were the headline acts.
KONM doesn’t mind admitting that watching Pinot abandon in the Alps resulted in quite a large lump in the throat. Truthfully, it was heartbreaking, a really devastating moment for all those who’d held out hope the Frenchman could end up on the top step on the Champs-Élysées. In terms of pathos, it was one of the most memorable scenes in the modern history of the Tour.
We haven’t seen Pinot race since that day, with the man himself revealing that he could barely look at his road bike until November. Where that leaves him is a mystery but KONM has faith that he’ll come back an even stronger rider in 2020. Cyclist have pointed out that this year’s Tour route is effectively a bespoke course designed “for” Pinot, so there won’t be much doubt about where Groupama-FDJ aim their biggest gun.
The question is whether Pinot has the mental fortitude to go through all of that again – but also whether his team is strong enough to keep him in contention at a what should be an exceptionally competitive Tour. Ineos will be as strong as ever despite their potential leadership confusion, while Jumbo-Visma’s GC arsenal is, quite frankly, ridiculous, so Pinot may have to piggyback on these teams’ trains and hope they mark each other rather than him.
But, hey, there are other riders on this team, right? Sometimes you’d forget that, such is the focus on Pinot. Groupama-FDJ are a small setup with one genuinely big name, though KONM has been banging the David Gaudu drum since Year Dot. We even jokingly predicted he’d win the 2020 Tour a while back.
Despite working hard for Pinot in the Tour last year, Gaudu still managed to finish 13th on GC and was second only to overall winner Bernal in the young rider classification. Aside from the aforementioned Colombian prodigy (who, it shouldn’t be forgotten, benefits from the full weight of the Ineos bank account), Gaudu was the most impressive climber in his age-group last year.
The 23-year-old Breton was given a chance at Romandie and duly won a punchy stage 3 into Romont. He mopped up white jerseys (or their equivalent) throughout the season and rode prominently in the Italian autumn. There’s every reason to believe that we’re looking at the early days of a future star, perhaps one who’ll pick up the Tour baton for France if Pinot can’t deliver. A thoroughly exciting prospect; get on the bandwagon now if you’re not already on it.
Away from the mountains, Groupama’s fastest man is big Arnaud Démare, the occasionally forgotten monument-winner who still pops up with wins every now and then. The man from Beauvais hasn’t quite pushed on since his win at Milano-San Remo in 2016 but shouldn’t be considered anything other than a top-class sprinter.
He spent some time in the points jersey at the 2019 Giro and won the pan-flat stage 10 into Modena ahead of the peloton’s elite fast-men. Five wins including a grand tour stage is not exactly a terrible return in what was considered a quiet enough year for Démare, though he may be under pressure to do more in 2020.
Marc Sarreau is an emerging talent and wins smaller races in France on a frequent basis. He may not have the brute force of Démare but two victories late last season will have given his team some food for thought. Démare is clearly the main man for the moment but he’ll have to justify that status this season.
Elsewhere, KONM is excited by Stefan Küng and Valentin Madouas. The imposing Küng backed up some decent late-season form with a road race podium at the World Championships, where he also made the top 10 in the time trial. He won solo on home roads on stage 2 at Romandie and looks as if he has the potential to become a very prominent rouleur in years to come.
Madouas was 5th in the 2019 French national road race and took 13th in GC at the Giro, where he also chipped in with top 10s on three different stages. Additionally, he was part of that gallop at the Amstel Gold Race, being dragged over the line by Mathieu van der Poel’s astonishing burst. He seems to have plenty of punch and should feature in many more finals over the next few years.
Prediction: Groupama have a bit of depth with the likes of Rudy Molard, Sébastien Reichenbach and Anthony Roux (to name but a few) also on the roster, but there isn’t a huge amount of doubt about their protected riders.
For the most part Pinot, Démare, Küng and (hopefully) Gaudu will carry the team’s hopes in the bigger races. It’s not a leap of faith to suggest there’s enough there to have a good season but so much hinges on what Pinot can do in “his” Tour. Everything else is secondary.