Like many of the French teams coming to this year’s Tour de France, AG2R La Mondiale brings a mixed bag to Saturday’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Both riders made the team’s roster this year, but Roche has likely been replaced by Jean-Christophe Peraud as the team’s main GC-contender. After all, Peraud finished ninth last year and is more than adequate time trialist. This year’s parcours suits him fine. As for the rest of the riders to have made the team’s roster, look to see them taking turns covering breakaways in the hopes that one stays away for good. I expect we’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 it’s first race of the season. But don’t expect the latter to be sacrificed for the sake of the former.
Man of the Hour
In the absence of a true “team leader”, it’s hard to pick a Man of the Hour for AG2R. That said, a top-10 finish in last year’s race is enough to justify giving the distinction to former-MTB star Jean-Christophe Peraud. 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 nation’s “next contender” (See Christophe LeMevel). But thanks to Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland, and Jerome Coppel, Peraud’s result—and the pressure to repeat it—has fallen off the radar. That should work in his favor, as will the race’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 winner—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 (he’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, he’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 España. Unfortunately, he hasn’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 year’s Tour would go a long way toward justifying the relatively large amount of press he’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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