You might recall our team-by-team preview of the 2010 road season back in February. Now that the dust is about to settle on another year, it’s the perfect time for a team-by-team review of what we said and what we saw. So over the next few weeks, we’ll count down the top-20 teams of 2010 (from #20 to #1), including a reprint of our original prognostications. So let’s kick things-off with #20:
#20 – La Francaise des Jeux (Preview Ranking: #18)
What We Said:
What a start for Marc Madiot’s men in white and blue! If they continue this streak, I’ll soon be looking pretty foolish for ranking them so low.
Or will I? Yes, they’ve won a few races so far this season, and yes, they have some talent (including a rider who finished 10th in last year’s Tour de France). But come June, will wins in the Med Tour and Haut Var still look all that impressive? Don’t get me wrong, there are some terrific pieces here, including many riders capable of taking impressive wins. But which wins and how many is another story.
FDJ hasn’t had a bona fide star since Baden Cooke. Sure, Sandy Casar’s a terrific rider on his day, an opportunist known for his dramatic Tour stage wins. And yes, Frederic Guesdon won Paris-Roubaix—in 1997. Anthony Geslin won a semi-classic in 2009 and Yauheni Hutarovich has already won several races this season—but something still seems missing.
Like so many of the French teams, FDJ’s strategy seems to involve throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks—hardly the way to run a successful program. In the end, success is quite possible for one of the longest-running teams in the sport. But when and from which riders is anyone’s guess. This team needs a true leader, someone the others can ride for, confident in the knowledge that if they do their jobs, he’ll do his. Until they find a truly talented and dynamic lead rider, their destined to pick through everyone else’s scraps.
Man of the Hour: Christophe Le Mevel stunned many with his top-10 finish in last year’s Tour de France. He’s started-off 2010 on the right foot, winning the second stage and the overall title at this past weekend’s difficult Tour du Haut Var. If he keeps his form, together with Casar and Remi DiGregorio, FDJ might have some hope for success in their first major domestic engagement of 2010: Paris-Nice.
On the Hot Seat: And speaking of Remi DiGregorio, when will we see him capitalize on all the potential everyone thought they saw him indicate in the Dauphiné a few years ago? He’s still just 24, but the home fans—and pundits—are growing impatient. Hopefully he’ll continue to display the aggressive riding he showed in the Med.
Up-and-Comer: It’s not all gloom and doom for France though. 2009 was a banner year for French U23 riders, culminating in Roman Sicard’s World Championship win in Mendrisio. Lost in all the excitement over Sicard was young Thibaut Pinot, the winner of the difficult Val d’Aosta stage race in Italy. In Pinot, Marc Madiot might have made his best signing in years—if this young climber comes close to meeting the expectations of those who have seen him ride.
Best Pick-Up: Considering there are only 3 newcomers to the roster, signing Pinot has to be the best of this year’s off-season haul for FDJ.
Biggest Departure: Again, not many teams are lining-up to steal riders away from French teams right now—at least not at this level.
What We Saw:
If for nothing else, credit FDJ for it’s staying-power. In a sport where team after team (many of them French) faces one sponsorship crisis after another, Marc Madiot and his management team have always managed to put forth a marketable—and relatively stable—squad each season since 1997. What’s even more impressive, they’ve managed to do it with largely the same industry partners and sponsors—could that be a key to team’s success?
That said, while the squad’s stability and consistency are impressive, the riders themselves rarely set the world on fire—especially outside of France. This past season, FDJ won 17 races—4 of them came outside French borders. Still, FDJ’s season was not without its highlights. Imports Yauheni Hutarovich and Jussi Veikkanen started the season with wins at the Mediterranean Tour, while Christophe LeMevel took the Tour du Haut Var. Jeremy Roy took an impressive win in the Norman Rouabaix, the Tro Bro Leon, while Benoit Vaugrenard took stages on Algarve and Dunkirk. As for the rest of the season, some smaller wins came here and there, but the big headlines were stage wins by Sandy Casar at the Tour and Hutarovich at the Tour of Poland and the Vuelta. All in all, it wasn’t a bad season, but one that would have benefitted from better showings in key French races such as Paris-Nice and the Dauphine.
Unfortunately, in the end FDJ’s efforts were not enough to guarantee the team a spot in the UCI’s Pro Tour for 2011—at least until Marc Madiot finds a new calendar, that is. Nevertheless, this is not a squad built to perform at the world level. As one of France’s top formations, the team is all but guaranteed an invitation to France’s biggest races without worrying about UCI-point accrual. And with new recruits such as Pierrick Fedrigo, William Bonnet, and Steve Chainel joining the fold, there’s little to suggest the team won’t continue to grab an impressive win or two on home terre.
Most Valuable Rider: Hutarovich won more races, but Sandy Casar came through with another stage win in the Tour de France, instantly making him the team’s most valuable rider. For a French rider on a French team, Tour stage victories guarantee contracts—with several impressive Tour performances including another stage win in 2007, Casar’s more or less set for the rest of his career.
Biggest Disappointment: After his 10th-place finish in the 2009 Tour de France, Christophe Le Mevel was FDJ’s Man of the Hour heading into the 2010 season. Unfortunately, the pressure obviously got to him as he failed to deliver on 2009’s impressive result. The rider has since departed for Garmin-Cervélo, obviously hoping that riding for a non-French formation will ease the pressure a bit—if he even makes Garmin’s Tour team, that is.
Biggest Surprise: We were all a bit surprised when Hutarovich out-sprinted the likes of Cavendish, Petacchi, and Farrar to take the Vuelta’s second stage, giving FDJ a rare grand tour stage victory outside of France. Were I Madiot, I’d have Hutarovich thinking of next year’s Ghent-Wevelgem, as the Belarussian’s similar in style and talent to 2010-winner, Bernie Eisel.
That’s if for #20, come back later for #19!
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