Cofidis have won a Tour stage every year since 2002 – but where is it going to come from this time round?
While they aren’t sitting so pretty in the ProTour, the last time Cofidis didn’t take at least one stage from the Tour de France was 2001. For this year’s edition, their lineup looks even more ragtag than usual – there’s no Jimmy Casper, their sprint saviour in Strasbourg last year, while two-time stage winner David Moncoutié is still burdened by injury. The burning question is where will a stage come from? A Wiggins win on day one would ease the pressure of the rest of the squad. There’s also aggressive mountain goat Ivan Parra, French favourite Sylvain Chavanel, Classics star Nick Nuyens and former Tour stage winner Rik Verbrugghe on board. With few options for the overall, like most French teams, Cofidis will be stage hunting, but they need some good tactics and luck to keep their winning run going.
There has been huge hype surrounding Bradley Wiggins – unsurprisingly the idea of a trackie-turned-time-trialist (à la Boardman) racing for prologue victory in his backyard is attractive to the media. But perhaps not even Wiggins himself believed he has what it takes to win until his Dauphiné prologue victory a few weeks ago. Though his thrashing of the Four Days of Dunkirk field in the opening time-trial was impressive, beating the world’s best in a stage of the Tour’s warm-up race finally cemented his position as a bona fide contender. Moreover, in the wake of doping scandals, his outspoken attitude to dopers is commendable. It would be a true fairytale for the Londoner to win here – one thing is sure: the support won’t be found wanting. Bradley Wiggins may have won three Olympic medals but this is the biggest test of his life.
On the long list for the prologue, there’s also Rik Verbrugghe, who won the Giro one in 2001 and was second in the 2005 Vuelta prologue. Now into the autumn of his career, the former Lotto man will be hoping for a repeat of 2001, where he also took a Tour road stage into Pau in a two-up sprint. Anonymous in last year’s race, both Cofidis and the man himself will be hoping for a better showing this time round.
How’s that for joy? There’ll be no Casper this year though Photo c. Tim De Waele
One of the squad’s big earners is Sylvain Chavanel; Cofidis still hope that he will blossom into at least a stage winner if not something of an overall contender. With fourth in the Criterium International and tenth in the Dauphiné Libere, Chavanel’s big-race performance has never been so good. For all the promise though, the best he’s done so far has been third in the 2006 Tour on the stage to Montelimar, as part of the infamous “29-minute” break, as well as making it into breakaways in the mountains. Now 28, a stage win and/or top 20 performance is well overdue.
Another man for the mountains is Colombian firebrand Ivan Parra. He looked very good in the mountains of the Giro, but was just unable to pick that right stage-winning attack, on the way to 13th overall - comfortably the best performance from a French team in the race. The Tour de France might be a bridge too far for Parra, but if he has good legs, he is exactly the kind of rider who could be considered a dark horse for the King of the Mountains competition.
In signing Cristian Moreni two years ago, Cofidis snapped up one of the most underrated riders in the sport. Endowed with a good sprint, the thirty-four year old Italian can also read races tactically like the best, able to choose the right breaks. Last year, he was outgunned by Matteo Tosatto in a three-up sprint to the line for Stage 18. If Wiggins fails, it is not unfair to say that the former Italian champ will be their best chance of a stage victory. His ability on the hills will also be a boon for the French team.
A Cofidis rider on the attack. Photo c. Tim De Waele
Most pure Classics rider prefer to stay as far away from the Tour de France as possible, an art Peter van Petegem has perfected through his career. However, Nick Nuyens is much more of an all-rounder. After proving his worth to Cofidis with fourth at Het Volk, second in the Brabantse Pijl and seventh at the Tour of Flanders, he will now head to the Tour as an attacker, no doubt buoyed by fourth at the Belgian championships.
Fellow cobbled Classics rider Staf Scheirlinckx is also on the team, riding his first Tour de France.
The French in particular love to attack. Jacky Durand is the most known “serial attacker” – perhaps because he got the most success from it - but there have been many at the Tour over the years: Cedric Vasseur, Stephane Berges, Frederic Finot, the list goes on. Stephane Augé is made from the same mould: he loves nothing better than to get up the road. He’s been pretty successful recently too, winning the Cholet-Pays de Loire in March as well as a Tour of Poland stage last Autumn. We can expect more of the same from Augé, garnering publicity for Cofidis in the first week as part of “suicide” breaks.
The roster is completed by Frenchman Geoffroy Lequatre, who could be their man for the bunch sprints, though a top ten is probably the best he is capable of.