“We will have 20 opportunities to show that we are aggressive, that means 20 opportunities to win.”
If there’s one thing French cycling can still look forward to, it’s the Tour de France – even if the halcyon days of Anquetil, Hinault and Fignon belong to another generation now. All the teams and riders try extra hard and pull out all the stops to ensure as much publicity as possible. However, with an outfit like Bouygues Telecom there will always be a glass ceiling limiting their potential. For all their efforts, having focused on raising home talent, especially in the Vendee region, they will struggle to stay with the big hitters.
That said, the 2006 edition of the Tour brought more success than ever before - after years of trying with Bonjour and Brioches la Boulangere, Jean-René Bernaudeau’s team’s first stage win came last year, courtesy of Pierrick Fedrigo. Moreover, Xavier Florencio won their first Classic a few weeks later. This year the squad will be looking to repeat that, as well as getting in breakaways and maybe snaffling the polka-dot jersey in the first week. Of course, it would also be nice to out-perform the other French teams…
Federigo wins Stage 14 last year. c.
Over the last four years, Pierrick Fedrigo has arguably been the most consistent domestic rider, not just in the squad but in France as a whole. He has turned in good performance after good performance in the Coupe de France as well as in big home races like Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné. The fact he was in the top 20 for both this year augurs well for the mountains of the Tour. Fedrigo is versatile and, as he showed last year, lethal from breakaways. Fedrigo played hardball with veteran companion Commesso as the peloton breathed down their necks, forcing the Italian to lead out the sprint, then firing past him. However, the twenty eight year old hasn’t won this season – something of a rarity for him. The Tour de France would be the best place to get off the mark.
Watch out for Fedrigo on Stage 17 particularly, as the race hits his home region on the road to Castelsarrin.
It’s now three Julys since Thomas Voeckler spent ten glorious days in jaune, fighting his way through the Pyrenees with such tenacity that he earned the support of many cycling fans and French housewives alike. Though the baby-faced Voeckler hasn’t repeated that, he has shown that he fully deserves to be one of the stars of the team, with wins in the Tour of the Basque Country, Paris-Bourges and the Route du Sud. Moreover, he’s maintained his celebrity status in France. Now just turned 28, we should see some more of “Titi” up the road, hunting for the one that will stay away, or even for polka-dot points. However, the peloton knows of his exploits in 2004, and he will be marked as a dangerous man to get away with.
After breaking through in 2004, Jerome Pineau has faded into the shadows slightly, despite still faring deceptively well. Always competitive at Paris-Nice, the Frenchman has just always been on the cusp of a good finish – fourth in this year’s French road race, 11th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, third in two Paris-Nice stages. He has a keen knack for infiltrating breakaways, but hasn’t yet been able to find the winning touch from there. That killer edge just seems to be lacking. Still, as he showed last year in the first week, some publicity via polka-dots is another welcome option.
Bernaudeau has said publicly that his men for the Alps will be Laurent Lefèvre and Swiss rider Johann Tschopp. Lefèvre is a good bet for a top 40 performance, though he doesn’t quite have the quality to go much higher. Tschopp, snapped up from Phonak, is untested in the Grande Boucle but he could perform similarly if not better than his older team-mate. He is also eligible for the maillot blanc.
There’s also Mathieu Sprick for the climbs, who ghosted into third in the white jersey competition last year. Bernaudeau said that he has improved from 2006, so it will be interesting to see how he performs. However, it’s safe to say that the Bouygues Telecom men will be fairly anonymous when it comes to the highest reaches of the general classification.
Florencio is surprised as the cycling community at his San Sebastian triumph; Photo c. Fotoreporter
Spanish import Xavier Florencio showed his class last autumn with a surprise win in the Clasica San Sebastian. With some strong climbing in the Tour de Suisse mountains and fourth in the Spanish national road race, he evidently has the form to perform here. Good on the hills, Florencio just adds another string to Bouygues Telecom’s proverbial bow. As he showed with that breakthrough win last August, he is also a real opportunist, with a strong acceleration to boot.
Who was the last French rider to finish on the podium in the world championships? Answer: Anthony Geslin, in the 2005 race. He is a competent sprinter who can also get over the hills well, but no world-beater. Bouygues Telecom will be looking to him for one or two top tens in bunch sprints but his prerogative, like the rest of the team, will be to get into breakaways. As the directeur sportif said: “We will have 20 opportunities to show that we are aggressive, that means 20 opportunities to win.” That mantra counts for the whole squad too.
The lineup is completed by Dutch time-trial champion Stef Clement, who had two top 15 performances against the clock in the Dauphiné. He will be hard-pressed to repeat those in the Tour itself, but it is something for the former Rabobank Continental team member to aim for in his first ride in cycling’s flagship event.