For this year's Giro d'Italia, the lottery company fdjeux.com (actually the only team from France to be competing in the first grand tour of 2004) have brought a youthful, inexperienced team, clearly hoping to build up some of their endurance levels for future events. Indeed, only Fritsch and Derepas were in the Giro 2003 team.
Actually, the oldest member of the team is also likely to be the leader - Bradley McGee (left), a not-so-ancient 28 years of age. No doubt many people were impressed by the Australian's recent Tour of Romandie performances, where he won the 3.4km prologue and came second in the tough, hilly final 20.4km time trial behind a superb Tyler Hamilton. And it appeared there was a bit of climbing in this track star, as he handled the climbs impressively to finish ninth overall, just over five minutes behind Hamilton. McGee, an ace time-tralist, will definitely be earmarking the technical 6.9km starting prologue, and he could well be the first Australian to wear the maglia rosa since Cadel Evans in 2002. The longer (52km) time trial on Stage 13 may also be of interest to McGee, who has spoken scathingly against drugs on his personal website.
Another in-form rider is the young Belgian Philippe Gilbert. Snapped up as one of the hottest neo-pro prospects in cycling in 2003, Gilbert is repaying the team with good performances. Last weekend, he finished second to Christophe Moreau in the attritional Trophee des Grimpeurs. He thrives in hillier races, and can also sprint when he has to, so Gilbert could be a force in the early stages before likely burn-out in the mountains. Racing with him are a host of fdjeux talents, all 26 or under. Nicolas Fritsch took a solid 17th overall in Romandie, and his thrid overall in the 2002 Tour of Switzerland may still be fresh in the minds of some people - Fritsch can climb superbly, although his form - when found - is erratic. Fritsch could be the team's secret weapon for the mountains though.
Matthew Wilson, crowned Australian champion in Janruary, will be a valuable asset in helping McGee; he's also not afraid to attack. Nor is ex-Barloworld Frenchman Freddy Bichot, who could animate one of the flatter stages in a breakaway. A rider who has fallen slightly from grace, meanwhile, is Nicolas Vogondy. Vogondy, winner of A Travers le Morbihan as well as a Tour of Limousin stage last year, has ultimately done nothing right this season, and the former French Champion and tricolore wearer will be looking to put his season on the right track in Italy this month.
The main aim for most of the team will be to gain valuable experience by surviving the mountains - just finishing will be an achievement. However, the best the team can hope for is Bradley McGee to win the prologue and get some good media exposure for the team, or otherwise with lots of attacks. With the form he showed in Switzerland, especially in the mountains, there's no reason to suggest that McGee cannot finish in the top 15 overall, but he will need to be on top form throughout, and it's likely he'll be wanting to save something for the Tour or the Olympic Games. Nonetheless, if anything, the Giro d'Italia 2004 will be an adventure for the fdjeux.com squad.
fdjeux.com for the 2004 Giro d'Italia
Freddy Bichot (France, 9 September 1979)
David Derepas (France, 9 March 1978)
Nicolas Fritsch (France, 19 December 1978)
Philippe Gilbert (Belgium, 5 July 1982)
Bradley McGee (Australia, 24 February 1976)
Francis Mourey (France, 8 December 1980)
Benoit Vaugrenard (France, 5 Janruary 1982)
Nicolas Vogondy (France, 8 August 1977)
Matthew Wilson (Australia, 1 October 1977)