Despite heavy pressure from the French cycling community, the highly touted Romain Sicard will not be racing this year’s Tour de France.
The U-23 world champion is being touted as France’s best chance to win a Tour since Bernard Hinault last won in 1985, but the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider is taking his first professional season with tranquility.
“No Tour for me this year,” Sicard said while racing this week at the Critérium du Dauphiné. “My big goals this year are Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné. This year I am racing to learn. I have no pressure to win.”
Despite the hype, Euskaltel-Euskadi brass is adamant about not putting too much pressure on Sicard in his rookie season. After a heavy spring program, Sicard will take a break after the Dauphiné and will not race the Vuelta a España later this season.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook with people wondering if we’re bringing Sicard to the Tour, but it’s too early,” Euskaltel sport director Igor González de Galdeano told El Correo. “He has tremendous potential. I’ve seen things in him that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Sicard created quite the stir Thursday when he was second on the summit finish up Risoul, a perfect scenario to introduce himself to win-hungry French fans still waiting for a national rider to challenge for the Tour again.
That performance confirmed why the 22-year-old is one of the most promising French riders in a generation.
Last year, he beat back Tejay Van Garderen and a strong U.S. team to win the Tour de l’Avenir and then barnstormed to the gold medal in the U23 world title in Mendrisio.
The big French teams overlooked him, but Euskaltel-Euskadi came calling. The Basque team already had Sicard on its radar screen, signing him to their development team, Orbea, in 2009.
Sicard, who lives in France’s Basque region, says he identifies with the Basque-backed team and became just the second Frenchman ever signed by Euskaltel-Euskadi in the team’s history.
“Euskaltel is the closest team to my home, the team that I’ve always followed and I was excited about joining the only Basque team in the peloton,” Sicard told journalists. “I am Basque, but I am also French. I love the passion that the Basque have for cycling.”
Many are hoping Sicard can break out and develop into rider that the French can rally around in their national tour.
Recent French history has been full of young, equally hyped riders, only to see them fall well short of expectations. Just the past few years, the French have built up big expectations around the likes of Remy Di Gregorio, Pierre Rolland and Amael Moinard, only to be disappointed yet again.
The pressure is almost unfair, something that Sicard acknowledges himself.
“I still don’t even know if I will be any good in stage races,” he said. “I won the espoirs world title, but I am still learning how to be a professional.”
The French will have to wait until at least next year to see Sicard line up in the Tour.