#19 â€“ Ag2r â€“ La Mondiale
The only French team to have made the UCIâ€™s list of ProTeams, Ag2r hits our list at #19.Â That said, if a few of the teamâ€™s key riders can improve upon their performances from last year, the team might end the season ranked much higher.
Ag2r enjoyed a successful 2010 season with wins in the Tour de Med, Four Days of Dunkirk, and a stage win in the Tour de France. Â But all eyes were on the Irishman Nicolas Roche and his 15th-place in the Tour de France and his seventh-place in the Vuelta a Espanaâ€”signs which indicate he might have more in common with his father than just a last name.
Clearly, at 26-years-old, Roche is Ag2Râ€™s biggest GC hope in major stage races, and perhaps the best GC-rider on any French team currentlyâ€”itâ€™s just too bad heâ€™s not actually French, otherwise Ag2r would have a commodity thatâ€™s proven harder to find than untainted Spanish beef.
Rocheâ€™s development will be a major component of Ag2râ€™s success in 2011.Â The rest of the squad will look for wins in minor French stage and one-day races, with another stage win in the Tour de France an important goal as well.Â A major question will be the teamâ€™s abilityâ€”and willingnessâ€”to support Rocheâ€™s bid for a place inside the Tourâ€™s top-10.Â (As John Gadret illustrated last July, many Frenchmen tend to ride for themselves in their home Tour.)Â With Ag2râ€™s typically French mix of escape artists and opportunists, management will need to make their goals and expectations clear, perhaps choosing their rosters accordingly.
Man of the Hour: Heâ€™s proven me wrong on several occasions, but Nicolas Roche seems to be the real deal.Â While a top-10 finish in this yearâ€™s is a likely goal for the Irishman, Iâ€™d also like to see him try and contend for victory in a shorter race, such as Paris-Nice.Â His recent knee troubles might make that tough, but at some point heâ€™ll need to start learning how to obtain and defend a leaderâ€™s jersey.
On the Hot Seat: John Gadret nearly rode himself off of Ag2r with a very public act of selfishness while refusing to give a wheel to Roche on the Port de Bales.Â Gadret will need to be on his best behavior is he wishes to ride the 2011 Tour as it will likely be at the Irishmanâ€™s service.
Up-and-Comer: It went largely unnoticed, but Frenchmen Lloyd Mondory rode a very consistent cobbled classics campaign last year with top-15 finishes in Harelbeke, the Ronde, and the Scheldeprijs before finishing 17th in Paris-Roubaix.Â Could Mondory be this yearâ€™s best French cobbler?
Best Pick-Up: At 33, Jean-Christophe Pereauâ€™s a bit of a veteran, but heâ€™s really only about 2-years-old in road years as he spent most of his career on a mountain bike.Â He finished eighth in Paris-Nice and fourth in Pais Vasco last year, signs of the Frenchmanâ€™s talent.Â If he can avoid crashes, sickness, and bad luck a bit better than he did last summer, he could prove to be a valuable ally to Roche in the Tourâ€™s mountains.
Biggest Loss: JosÃ© Luis Arrieta was a professional since 1993. Â As one of Miguel Indurainâ€™s most trusted domestiques, I think itâ€™s safe to say that he learned a thing or two about how to win a bike race.Â 18 years of experience are tough for any team to replace.
Thatâ€™s it for #19!Â Two teams down, 18 to go!
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