French cycling has a rich history. It is the home of the world's biggest race, the Tour de France which is known by everyone, even those who don't follow the sport.

Stars such as Jacques Anquetil, Louison Bobet, Laurent Fignon and Richard Virenque have lit up the roads not only in front of their compatriots but also around the globe.

In recent years however, French cycling has failed to live up to those heights. Apart from the odd stage win at some Grands Tours, there has been no Frenchman who has stood out and gone on to become one of the world's best.

It has left the public somewhat disillusioned and they are in need of someone to relive the glory days.

Fortunately, help is at hand. There is a new generation of French cyclists who are ready to take on the baton from those former heros.

Thibault Pinot has been around for a couple of years and there are others who are bursting onto the scene such as Warren Barguil, Roman Bardet and Alexandre Geniez.

The newest member of this rising pack is non other than Breton Olivier le Gac, who has recently signed a contract with French side FDJ.fr.

It has come as no surprise to cycling experts, bearing in mind the potential that the youngster has shown on the youth circuit.

He will join up with the team professionally from August next year and, as this current season drew to a close, I was able to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.

I started off by first asking him what motivated him to start cycling and it became clear that the sport is a family affair.

He said: "I started cycling when I was 15, in the Minimes 2 category. The reason I started was because my brothers were already in the sport. My parents also used to cycle in teams and still do now for pleasure, so it's fair to say that it's in the family. Although I'm the only one still doing it, the rest of my family still love cycling."

At his first team, VS Plabannec, it was clear to see he had what it took to make it in the tough world of cycling.

He was regularly winning, sometimes even lapping half the field in circuit races, but he never felt he was dominating. "I never felt like I was far ahead of the rest of the peloton," he said. "I just worked hard to do the best I could. Motivation was easy to find, I just wanted to win."

It shows that he has a natural talent for the sport when he only started cycling when he was 15 and his first full junior season wasn't until he was 18 years old.

"Football was my favourite sport, so for the first three years I was only able to cycle during the summer after the end of the football season.

"It wasn't until I was in the Junior 1 category that I completed my first full season."

From then he went from strength to strength, and the race that initially made his name was the 2010 World Junior Road Championships. "It was a fantastic feeling to win the rainbow jersey.

"The objective was always to win the race because I'd won the GP Patton before, but it was still a wonderful feeling when I actually did it. It was only my first full season and only my third selection in the French team."

He admits that life wasn't the same afterwards. "My life certainly changed," he continued.

"That race made my name pretty well known within the cycling world, which of course makes it easier to progress. I was able to find sponsors and more and more clubs soon became interested."

The next step was the transition from Junior to Espoirs. This still didn't faze Le Gac however.

"The jump in levels went well. Of course the level was higher, the races were longer but thanks to my team BIC 2000, who gave me time to settle in, it wasn't too much of a problem."

His performances did not falter and it wasn't long before FDJ.fr came calling. "I was offered a place on the team's foundation course two years ago and I still am to this day.

"So when I was eventually offered a professional contract, it seemed like next logical step to accept. I believe I am lucky because many riders have come through their ranks and become respected pros. I can't wait to start!"

He won't be starting until August 1st 2014 professionally however, which he says is due to the fact that he wants to finish his studies: he is in his final year in Brest, Brittany, where he is studying the science and techniques behind physical and sporting activities.

He has already had a taste of a professional racing though - this year's Grand Prix of Wallonia.

He said: "I really enjoyed the race. There were some big names there such as Nicky Terpstra, Roy Kurvers and Arnaud Gerard.

"There were a lot of people on the roads and it was also shown live on television. Although I eventually finished 15 minutes behind winner Jan Bakelants, it was still a great experience."

So now is the wait until his first professional footsteps and although he is obviously excited about his new career, he remains grounded. "Now I have my first pro contract, I just want to enjoy cycling as much as possible and the rest will all come in good time.

"I'm trying not to think too much about the future. I want to first discover the World Tour, get used to it and then I'll see where it takes me. I don't even know what my speciality is yet ! "

He has obviously had to make sacrifices he tells me, but it is all worth it. For him, like many other cyclists young and old, the sensation of being on a bike more than makes up for the missed parties and holidays.

Cycling has had some tough times, none more so than the recent Lance Armstrong saga. But it is fantastic to see that this has not stopped some talented youngsters from pursuing a career in the sport. It is riders like Olivier Le Gac that give us hope for the future of cycling. Watch out for him in the future, he has what it takes to make it to the top.

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Topics:
Cycling
Tour De France