You have to know how to read between the lines of the Tour de l’Ain’s prize list to discover up-and-coming talents. It is often with hindsight, after a few seasons of maturation, that the good grain harvested on the roads of the 01 department reveals itself as a grand cru. It is the race that allows young people to make themselves known, to unveil talents in the making. The mountains don’t lie, and you have to bear in mind that this is one of the most difficult events on the calendar. The climbers don’t have so much to put themselves under the wheels. We can remember the joy that pure climbers like John Gadret (2007), Carl Naibo (2005) or the Auvergne climber David Delrieu (1996) used to feel, happy as cadets after having included the Tour de l’Ain in their prize list.
Even today, when they appear at the bottom of the Grand Colombier or the Faucille, shivers run down the spines of the kings of the mountain, and they launch themselves without calculation towards the summit. There are images that come back to us, when we look back over the past editions, such as that of Julian Alaphilippe, dazzling winner in 2014 of a stage victory in Arbent, his first in the professional ranks, he who was then only known and recognised as a cyclo-cross specialist. The way he angrily showed his joy when he crossed the line said a lot about his fiery temperament. A few lengths behind him were such big names as Romain Bardet and Dan Martin.
Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot: is it really necessary to recall here all that the event owes them, but also all that they owe to this Tour de l’Ain. They are not ungrateful. Pinot came back last year to sign a double win expected at the top of the Grand Colombier, “his” favourite pass. But the beginning of the love story goes back to 2011, when he accompanied David Moncoutié on his ride in the Valromey. Two magnificent champions were united in victory, in perfect happiness and shared by thousands of spectators, who came that day to celebrate a sort of handover between two great French cycling greats.
Yes, we liked all these youngsters with long teeth, the David Gaudu, the Pierre Latour, but also foreigners like the Dutchman Bauke Mollema, who wore the white jersey, his compatriot Wouter Poels, winner at Lélex in 2011 and who then made a career with Christopher Froome. We remember the Estonian Rein Taaramae, a faithful Estonian, winner as a youngster in 2009 and still on the third step of the podium in 2018 and 2019.
Last year’s edition has once again consecrated rising values in cycling and we think in particular of the surprising Swiss rider Stefan Bissiger, the fastest in the sprint in Saint-Vulbas and who soon confirmed this by becoming Swiss U23 champion in the time trial and then in the elite category on July 12th, still in the timed race. He also took second place in the Peace Race, a benchmark among the U23s. And then in fifth place in the Faucille stage in 2019 was a certain Aurélien Paret-Peintre, a young Haut-Savoyard who is well known in the region but whom some people already present as the future Romain Bardet. He already had the fangs at the beginning of the season in Bessèges (6th). Let’s give him time to grow up quietly.