French hopes are rising

THERE is a lot of talk within the Tour de France about how well the French riders are going in this year's race - and if I can, I just want to say that it is a good thing.

It's been a while since the French have fared so well, but here they are with the Tour due to finish in Paris on Sunday with four riders in the top 10 overall.

Barring disaster, Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is in control of this race as it heads into the Pyrenees for a tough three days.

But it is wide open for the podium with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in second at 4 minutes and 37 seconds for Tuesday's 16th stage - 237.5km from Carcassonne to Bourge-en-Bresse - and Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r) third at 4 minutes, 50 seconds.

Behind them is Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FJD.fr) in fourth, American Tejay van Garderen (BMC) in fifth and Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) sixth and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) 10th.

It's really hard to predict what will happen, such is the Tour, but  I suspect the French might have the measure of Valverde in the climbs.

But then Valverde has a good team and is happy with second place for the moment. 

I also think he will outdo them in the stage 20 time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux over 54km on Saturday.

So I don't think it makes sense for him to go with any rash move before that.

The time trial will also suit van Garderen for a late push, but with the attention of the Frenchmen on him, making up the time he will need beforehand is going to be a tall order.

What should be interesting is the race between the French.

Rolland's position going into Tuesday's stage looked less like him making the podium, but only one minute and 18 seconds separates Bardet, Pinot and Peraud.

I suspect Ag2r will try and rattle Pinot on the descents as they tried to last Saturday in the Alps.

They nailed it then, with Pinot known for being a little bit nervous on the downhill; and will probably do so again in the Pyrenees.

I think they will especially go for him in Thursday's stage from Pau to Hautacam, and on the descent from the Col du Tourmalet into the valley - often into a head wind - before the last 13.6km climb to the finish.

It should be a good battle, but either way it's great that the French have someone to cheer for.

As for me?

There are two ways to look at the week ahead: as a week of opportunity, or as a hard, long week to get through.

It could go either way, but keeping a positive mind I hope it will lead to a chance to go up the road and with a breakaway.

In the next few days a breakaway could go to the finish line. Although, Nibali may want to win Thursday's stage to Hautacam because it is the Queen stage.

I don't really know if I have recovered from my chest infection properly. I feel a little better at least.

The race will reveal those answers in full, but Monday's rest day was welcomed. I rode for an hour, but I didn't ride my time trial bike as it was just too windy.

The highlight was at the team bus, when a French lady gave me a block of Toblerone chocolate. It was a pick-me-up, I guess.

And coming this late in a Tour, especially when things are not going so well, such gestures can make a huge difference.

At the very least, it made me smile - so it's already worked!

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