Difficult, for the French pistards, to be situated before the tests of the Olympic Games in Tokyo (August 2 to 8) which begin on Monday: due to the Covid-19, no real major international meeting has taken place since the Worlds of February 2020, where Benjamin Thomas was the only one to climb to the highest step of a podium.
On the Berlin velodrome, the French team had gleaned only two medals in the Olympic disciplines: the gold of the omnium thanks to Thomas, and the silver of the pair Marie Le Net / Clara Copponi in the American.
At 25, Thomas arrives in Tokyo with his experience of the world title of the American conquered in 2017 (at the time with Morgan Kneisky), and of her double title of world champion of the omnium (2017, 2020): "The Covid has deprived us of benchmarks, he admits, but my goal will be gold only! If I take the silver or the bronze, I will consider it a failure," he said a few weeks before the Games.
"A successful Olympics, he added on Saturday, would be to get two medals."
In omnium therefore, and in American, where he will be associated with the young Donavan Grondin.
Together, they were ranked 6th in the Worlds, while the Reunionese had just turned 19.
"We are outsiders with Donavan and we will have zero pressure in this race," assures Thomas.
The rider of the Groupama-FDJ team has juggled his road career this season to prepare for the Games as well as possible: "I did track courses every month between road races", he says, "It's a bit complicated to switch from one discipline to another, but we managed to fit the two programs together and I'm really in optimal conditions here".
- Vigier and Gros without references -
This confidence is far from inhabiting the speed specialists, who are sorely lacking in references.
In Berlin, fourth place in the men's team sprint had confirmed that the French still have a card to play collectively, but the individual results were far below expectations.
Grégory Baugé, who retired last winter, was replaced as starter by 20-year-old Florian Grengbo, preferred to Quentin Caleyron.
Sébastien Vigier and Rayan Helal complete the team in a formation which - due to the Covid-19 pandemic - has never been fielded in competition.
"We have worked a lot together, I think we are in good shape, even if the three of us have not done an official competition", reassures Vigier, for whom the objective is "a team medal (... ) and a place in the last square in individual ".
At the Worlds, Vigier was eliminated in the round of 16.
Among the women, Mathilde Gros had left the tournament in the eighth.
And overall, the Habs had fished out of tactical naivety: while their qualifying times were good, they were then trapped in duels by more cunning opponents.
For lack of competitions, "we did more specific training, which looked a little more like match situations", revealed Saturday Mathilde Gros, who also worked with her mental trainer to better manage the particular pressure of the Olympic Games.
The track is the last hope of the French Cycling Federation, with Anthony Jeanjean, in the BMX freestyle final on Sunday, to bring back some medals, after the cabbage of the road and the big disappointments of mountain biking and BMX racing.
© 2021 AFP