Even before his post-race interview, the tears on the podium betrayed just how much wearing the French bands for the next year will mean to Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic).
The Frenchman took the sprint victory from a select group, with the Cofidis pair of Julien Simon and Damien Touze picking up silver and bronze.
After his win, Barguil admitted he had thought about quitting cycling after a number of seasons where he has faced unfortunate setbacks.
The 27-year-old has only recently returned to racing after breaking his pelvis in a crash during the final stage of the Volta a Catalunya in March.
Moreover, since he joined Arkéa-Samsic at the start of the 2018 season he has struggled to find the form that turned heads as he won the king of the mountains classification at the Tour de France 2017, picking up two stage wins in the process.
However, after the high point of the 2017 Tour things started to go downhill for Barguil. He was thrown out of the Vuelta a España by his Sunweb team because of disagreements over race goals and tactics, wanting a free role to attack mountain stages instead of protecting team leader Wilco Kelderman. The situation escalated when Baguil refused team orders to wait for Kelderman after he had punctured, with the Dutchman losing time as a result and Barguil chucked out of the race the start of the next stage by team management.
Barguil said that his win in the French championships isn’t revenge for his recent ups and downs, though, “I think there are cycles in cycling. I’m not superhuman. I’ve just been through a tough period, but it’s not revenge,” he said.
“I’ve always had these legs, I just had to find them again, just like I had to find my morale again. I’m very happy with myself.”
The journey back to form and taking big wins hasn’t been an easy one, with Barguil saying that at points he’d thought about climbing off for good and taking an early retirement.
“There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit cycling, but my wife has supported me a lot and I didn’t give up,” he said.
“I think that that’s life. There are tough moments and very good moments and I understand that the thing is to not give up. I thank my wife, my family and my team who all helped me through this. I told myself that if I quit cycling, I might come to regret it a week later, and for my whole life.”
Barguil says it’s hard to imagine what it’s going to be like wearing the national champion’s jersey during the upcoming Tour de France, but will be looking to honour it by racing on the front foot, which will surely be to the delight of French fans.
“My goal will be to chase stage wins, but by being more intelligent than I was last year, when I threw some chances away.
“I’ll try to be cleverer and to not do too much. This jersey doesn’t put pressure on me, it’s pure passion. The pressure comes during training, when I’ll be doing everything I can to be ready for the Tour de France.”