For second year running, we’re previewing the the 2011 season with a countdown of the teams we consider to be the top-20 in the sport.Â We started yesterday with #’s 20 and 19; and continued earlier today with #18.Â Here’s the next team on our list:
#17 â€“ FDJ
Of all the French teams in this yearâ€™s peloton, FDJ is probably the best.Â But the fact that theyâ€™re still only #17 in this ranking accentuates how far French teams must come in order to catch-up to the rest of the worldâ€™s best teams.Â That said, if FDJâ€™s any indicator, things are looking up for the French.
Perhaps more so than any other team, FDJ benefitted from the uncertainty surrounding BBox, scooping William Bonnet, Steve Chainel, and Pierrick Fedrigo from the transfer market.Â Bonnet and Chainel should bolster FDJâ€™s classics squad immediately, teaming with Anthony Geslin, Yoann Offredo, and Frederic Guesdon to give FDJ a nice northern contingent.Â Bonnet enjoyed quite the productive spring last year with a stage win at Paris-Nice and top-15â€™s in the Omloop, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the E3 Prijs, and the Ronde.Â Heâ€™s a handy little rider to have around for Grand Tours tooâ€”he always manages to find himself in a race-winning break or two.
But FDJâ€™s real prize this past off-season was Fedrigo, who won last yearâ€™s Criterium International and Stage 16 of the Tour de France in Pau.Â Coupled with Sandy Casar, Fedrigo gives FDJ two riders who have proven theyâ€™re capable of winning races in July.
Overall, with a solid core of veterans, some talented youngsters, and a management and infrastructure thatâ€™s been working together since the 1990â€™s, FDJâ€™s probably one of the most well-rounded and professionally run teams in the sportâ€”a fact reflected by the national lotteryâ€™s decision to support the team for another four years.Â My wish for FDJ: another win in Roubaix for Madiot and a fitting reminder of Guesdonâ€™s surprise victory almost 14 years ago.
Man of the Hour: Fedrigoâ€™s a proven champion and someone FDJ can count on for an important win or two each season.Â Heâ€™s won stages in Dunkirk, the DauphinÃ©, and the Tour; heâ€™s also a former French National Road Race Championâ€”FDJ hasnâ€™t had one of those since 2002.
On the Hot Seat: To be honest, with Remi DiGregorio and Christophe Le Mevel gone and a 4-year contract extension with the teamâ€™s sponsor there are few FDJ riders on the Hot Seatâ€”for now, at least.
Up-and-Comer: Few can say they won their first race as a professional, but Geoffrey Soupe can add his name to the list following his Stage 1 victory at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon last month.Â (A winâ€™s a win, right?)Â Soupe can time trial and heâ€™s performed well in the U23 Roubaixâ€”heâ€™s someone to watch in April.
Best Pick-Up: Steve Chainel was last yearâ€™s Up-and-Comer for BBoxâ€”this year he moves to FDJ where Iâ€™m hopeful Marc Madiot will help him contend in the cobbled classics.Â A stage-winner in the 2010 3-Days of DePanne, Chainel has the talent and the demeanor necessary to contend in the northern classics.
Biggest Loss: Jussi Veikkanen was always good for a win or two, especially in the early season when teams are desperate for headlines.Â His transfer to Omega Pharma-Lotto wonâ€™t doom FDJ to irrelevance, but they might miss him for the next week or two.
And thereâ€™s #17â€”share your comments below!