#12 – BBox – Bouyges Telecom (Preview Ranking: #20)
What We Said:
If it not for the heroics of Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo in last year’s Tour de France, this team might not be around this year. Bumped from the Pro Tour after 2009 (although don’t put too much stock in that distinction), Jean-René Bernaudeau’s team comes into the 2010 season once again hoping some domestic one-day wins and perhaps a stage or two in the Tour will be enough to keep the Euros flowing to the Vendée region’s home team. On the strength of their two stars, they make the ranking for 2010—barely.
The bulk of the team’s aspirations fall heavily on the shoulders of Voeckler and Fedrigo. Both ride aggressively in June, July, and August—three of the biggest months in French cycling—and both exhibit the kind of spunk that most French fans seem to appreciate nowadays. As for the rest of the team, you’ll be hearing Pierre Rolland’s name a lot come the Dauphiné—he’s yet another in a long line of French “Next Big Things”. While some are growing inpatient, it should be noted that he’s still quite young, so there’s time for him to develop.
In the end, it all boils down to wins for BBox—any wins they can muster. Some are wondering if the Pro Tour snub is the beginning of the end for these plucky Frenchmen. They’ll spend much of 2010 just trying to fend-off what many consider to be inevitable.
Man of the Hour: Thomas Voeckler’s been a darling of French fans ever since he took the maillot jaune in the 2004 Tour. Luckily for him, he always manages to come through with a big win just as his stock seems to dip. Aside from his Tour stage last season, Voeckler narrowly missed adding a stage win in the Giro to his palmares when he finished 2nd on Stage 20—maybe this year he goes one better?
On the Hot Seat: General Manager Jean-René Bernaudeau’s got to be sweating a bit. Aside from the heroics of his two stars, his team’s hard-pressed for wins. He needs to develop some new talent quickly. Voeckler and Fedrigo won’t be around forever, and if his team fails to show the consistency it needs to secure long-term deals with major French sponsors, he could be out of a job.
Up-and-Comer: Everyone’s talking about Rolland, but I’m eager to see if Steve Chainel can develop into a classics rider following his strong showing in several races toward the end of cyclocross season. I know, cyclocross isn’t always an indicator for classics success, but let’s see if Chainel can make the transition from mud to asphalt in time for a top-15 result in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Best Pick-Up: When was the last time Colnago sponsored a French team? This is clearly a match made in desperation. Colnago must have been desperate for a big-time team—so desperate it went to France; while BBox must have had a tough time finding a domestic sponsor willing to top Colnago’s offer. Regardless, look for BBox to be extra-motivated in this year’s Giro, hoping to honor Ernesto’s patronage with a stage win.
Biggest Departure: Few riders left BBox following 2009, a testament as to just how dire the situation truly is.
What We Saw:
In hindsight, BBox earns a much higher ranking after doing the one thing that several teams ranked below them could not: they won the races they were supposed to win. As a French Professional Continental team fighting to find a new sponsor, world domination isn’t the goal—but domestic success is. Of BBox’s 18 victories and 42 visits to the podium in 2010, all but 16 came on French soil.
More importantly, BBox put on a show in just about every French race that mattered. William Bonnet kicked things off with a stage win in Paris-Nice (Thomas Voeckler came close to a second); Pierrick Fedrigo then won the “queen” stage and the overall at the Criterium International a little over two weeks later. Meanwhile, in Belgium, Steve Chainel and Sebastien Turgot were proving to be above-average flahutes, winning Stages 1 and 2 at the 3-Days of De Panne. Cyril Gautier then won the Route Adelie, Franck Bouyer took the Tour de Bretagne, and Pierre Rolland won a stage at the Circuit de Lorraine.
At the Giro, BBox made its presence felt too. First, Yukiya Arashiro took third on Stage 5 followed by Voeckler’s second-place ride on Stage 12. Not to be outdone however, Johann Tschopp topped them both with a mountain stage win atop the Passo Tonale in Stage 20.
Back to France and the Critérium du Dauphiné, where Nicolas Vogondy took Stage 4 to Risoul two weeks before winning the French National ITT Championship. Voeckler won another French Championship on the road three days later. Heading into the Tour, it was all systems allez! for Bernaudeau’s men in blue.
In France, after a quiet first two weeks, BBox hit the Pyrennees with a vengeance, taking back-to-back victories on Stages 15 and 16, thanks to Voeckler and Fedrigo—a terrific haul by any modern French squad’s standards. Regrettably, only one more win would follow, but it was the new Pro Tour event, the GP de Quebec—chalk another victory for Voeckler.
But perhaps the squad’s biggest victory was one earned off the bike, as Bernadeau announced in early October that car rental company Europcar would be taking over as the team’s title sponsor for the next 3 years. Unfortunately, the majority of the team’s best riders had already signed with other teams by that point—yet another case of too little, too late. It looks like 2011 will be another year back to the drawing for Bernadeau.
Most Valuable Rider: Thomas Voeckler won another French Championship, another Tour stage, and the new Pro Tour event in Quebec. For a French rider on a French team, it really doesn’t get any better. (On second thought, there’s Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours….)
Biggest Disappointment: They can’t be blamed for being a bit pre-occupied (you know, trying to find a new sponsor and all), but BBox tailed-off a bit after the Tour de France. Voeckler’s victory at the GP de Quebec was the team’s lone win, and Nicolas Vogondy and Steve Chainel were the squad’s only riders to step foot on a podium. With important races such as Paris-Tours, Fourmies, and Isbergues on the calendar, it would have been nice to see BBox play more of a role.
Biggest Surprise: I don’t know about you, but I certainly enjoyed seeing some French teams at the front of the major cobbled races this spring. I already mentioned Chainel and Turgot’s wins in De Panne, but don’t forget William Bonnet—he took 10th, 11th, and 10th in Dwars door Vlaandere, the E3 Prijs, and the Tour the Flanders respectively. Both Bonnet and Chainel are heading to FDJ (along with Fedrigo)—I can’t wait to see what Marc Madiot can make of them!
So there you have it–#12 in our Team-By-Team Season Review.
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