In a previous post I argued that the French shall rise again–and indeed they are already on their way. But of course, the most relevant measure of any progress is success in their home tour. Which team will be the most successful in this year’s edition?
Here are the 5 candidates, all of which are managed by former coureur cyclistes.
Jean-Rene Bernaudeau’s Team Europcar
Despite having to wait for an 11th-hour sponsorship agreement, Bernaudeau’s Europcar squad seems to have successfully established itself from the ashes of the Bbox team, even if several stars decided to leave for more certain pastures. The star is clearly Thomas Voeckler, who seems to have shed his wonder-boy status to be a legitimate contender in one-day races or stage-hunting sorties. However, Voeckler is much more than just the star rider, he has matured to become a true leader. He is an effective helper when appropriate, and possesses an indefatigable spirit. Add to this a few legitimate stage win contenders such as Antony Charteau, and they have many cards to play.
With a cohesive squad and a strong leader, I expect Europcar to steal a stage or two, plus a leader’s jersey (the KOM?) for at least the first two weeks.
Marc Madiot’s Francaise des Jeux
Some of Bernaudeau’s loss was Madiot’s gain, in particular the move of Pierrick Fedrigo to FdJ. Some may dismiss him as merely a French National Championship specialist, but he did win the prestigious stage in Pau last year. With Sandy Casar in the squad as well, FdJ has a very potent mix of opportunistic rouleurs with several years of race-winning experience. Cyclocross-crossover Steve Chainel and Milan-San Remo star Yoann Offredo had good springs, but their endurance in a stage race is questionable–stage wins are their best bets for glory. After many years of investing in young talent and cultivating a spirit of winning, I believe Madiot’s squad will come away with several wins.
Vincent Lavenu’s Ag2r
Lavenu might have a civil war in his hands if he doesn’t manage his two aspiring stars – John Gadret and Nicolas Roche – well. A well-publicized public spat with teammate Gadret in the 2010 Tour (where Roche was supposed to be the team leader) ensued following Gadret’s refusal to help Roche at an unfortunate moment. After these two riders, Lavenu has a shortage of quality GC contenders. Cyril Dessel’s great performance from a few years ago seems impossible to replicate, and Rinaldo Nocentini has been suffering through the season so far. In the end, I expect Ag2r to come-up bust. Roche was injured in the Dauphiné, and Gadret never excited in the Tour. His inability to time trial is be a severe handicap for any GC hope, yet the climbs are poorly matched to his strengths.
Eric Boyer’s Cofidis
If anything else, Boyer has enjoyed near-unlimited sponsorship support Cofidis so far. Cofidis has had great moments in the past, but its recent history has not been shining. Their greatest asset now is perhaps David Moncoutie, winner of TdF stages and the Climbers Jersey. After a few down seasons where he didn’t shine in the TdF, it appears that 2011 has been a good season so far, with a convincing performance in the Tour de Med.
For nostalgic reasons, I want to say that Cofidis might have a breakthrough Tour de France, but it really all hinges on Moncoutie. The team has also harbored dreams of having a GC contender for a long time; Estonia’s Rein Taaramae seems to be their top hope. He had a decent Paris-Nice, and is slowly overcoming his weakness in ITT. Perhaps he’ll score a top-15 placing? I’m not holding my breath.
Stephane Heulot’s Saur-Sojasun
It is easy to argue that Saur-Sojasun is this year’s “French affirmative action” team. With a small budget and limited support, the Tour de France is the biggest show of the team’s two-year existence. There are a few riders of note though, including veterans Jimmy Casper, Jimmy Engoulvent, Arnaud Coyot, Sebastien Joly, and youngster Jerome Coppel. Coppel is worth paying attention to, even if this year may not be his breakthrough Tour–yet. He has some good results including 5th in last year’s Dauphine Libere. Only 24 years-old, age is on his side, though I expect he’ll need two more seasons to really make his mark.
And vous? Which French teams and riders do you think will have the most successful Tour de France?
Share your comments below.