Like many of the French teams coming to this yearâ€™s Tour de France, AG2R La Mondiale brings a mixed bag to Saturdayâ€™s start in Liege. With no clear captain, the team will likely let the race dictate its tactics, with stage wins taking precedence over a high GC finish. In a perfect world, the team would repeat its Tour de France performance from 2010, when Christophe Riblon took a prestigious stage win in the Pyrenees while Nicolas Roche challenged for a top-10 finish overall.
Both riders made the teamâ€™s roster this year, but Roche has likely been replaced by Jean-Christophe Peraud as the teamâ€™s main GC-contender. After all, Peraud finished ninth last year and is more than adequate time trialist. This yearâ€™s parcours suits him fine. As for the rest of the riders to have made the teamâ€™s roster, look to see them taking turns covering breakaways in the hopes that one stays away for good. I expect weâ€™ll see them wait a few days for the hillier stages to begin before sticking their noses at the front.
In the end, a stage win or two and another top-10 result for Peraud would be the ideal scenario for a team that waited until May to win itâ€™s first race of the season. But donâ€™t expect the latter to be sacrificed for the sake of the former.
Man of the Hour
In the absence of a true â€œteam leaderâ€, itâ€™s hard to pick a Man of the Hour for AG2R. That said, a top-10 finish in last yearâ€™s race is enough to justify giving the distinction to former-MTB star Jean-Christophe Peraud.Â A high finish at the Tour would ordinarily land most Frenchman on the Hot Seat thanks to the incredible media coverage and pressure that comes from being the host nationâ€™s â€œnext contenderâ€ (See Christophe LeMevel). But thanks to Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, and Jerome Coppel, Peraudâ€™s resultâ€”and the pressure to repeat itâ€”has fallen off the radar. That should work in his favor, as will the raceâ€™s abundance of time trials.
Riding in what will be his second Tour de France, Blel Kadri has all the makings of Tour de France stage winnerâ€”especially in the latter half of the race when teams are more willing to let breakaways escape. Kadri can climb and will not be high enough on GC to set-off any alarms in the peloton. Look for him to be at his best in the Pyrenees (heâ€™s performed well there in the past in races such as the Route du Sud). While the major favorites are duking it out for the final yellow jersey, heâ€™s just the type of rider we might see hanging-on for a mountain stage win.
On the Hot Seat
Nico Roche looked to have finally put it together after a 2010 season in which he finished 14th at the Tour de France and seventh at the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a. Unfortunately, he hasnâ€™t done much since. This year it appears as if Roche has abandoned his hopes of being a GC-contender in exchange for stage wins. A victory in this yearâ€™s Tour would go a long way toward justifying the relatively large amount of press heâ€™s attracted over the past few years.
AG2R’s most consistent rider this season might just be Hubert Dupont. After a ninth-place finish in the Criterium International and a seventh-place finish in the Giro Trentino (a challenging pre-Giro event), the Frenchman finished 16th at the Tour of Italy while riding at the service of John Gadret. He then was runner-up at the Route du Sud and now heads to the Tour de France to hunt for a stage win.
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