In the last couple of years, Francaise des Jeux have been kind to the Giro, as one of the only French teams in attendance. Now, with the advent of the ProTour, their patience in this “exercise” has paid off, as the lottery-sponsored squad now know what to expect from the Giro, while many fellow French teams, as well as European ones, are Giro virgins. Though, once more, the core of the team is inexperienced (though hard-working), Francaise des Jeux will be hoping that their big guns Baden Cooke and Sandy Casar can pull out a stage victory or, for the latter rider, finish respectably overall.
Francaise des Jeux for the Giro
You don’t want to spoil this Cooke’s broth – Courtesy of Bart Hazen
The focus for the squad will be on stage wins, and this should stem from an Australian vanguard, consisting of Grand Tour first-timer Mark Renshaw, former Australian champion Matt Wilson and former Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke. Not only are they all from ‘Down Under’, but all three share an apartment in Monaco, having recently moved to the principality from Nice, and will be extremely well-schooled in bringing “Cookie” to the front for the sprints. Nonetheless, while Cooke has been off-form in the past year or so and performing below expectation, Renshaw himself is speedy in the sprint and could easily surprise in some fast flatland finishes, providing that he’s given the all-clear.
Francaise des Jeux will be hoping that one or two of the lesser known riders in their selection can pop up in the higher reaches of the results page on some days. Lilian Jégou has a competent sprint on him, but it’s more likely that he will be working for Baden Cooke rather than gunning for any personal glory. One of the Australian’s key lead-out men is Carlos Da Cruz, who is endowed with a good turn of speed. He should continue to dedicate himself for the team’s cause as one of the best and most underrated domestiques among French squads.
Casar digs deep on the Ventoux in 2004 – Courtesy of Pete Geyer
As he did in 2003, Sandy Casar will lead the team for the Giro, though he has vowed that it is just preparation for the Tour de France. Still, after twelfth overall two years ago as the best Frenchman (by a country mile), Casar could sneak into a place in the top twenty again without anyone really noticing. Indeed, his performances in recent years in Grand Tours have smacked of tenacious consistency but just a slight lack of the ability to hit the heights of the top ten. With sixteenth in last year’s Tour, Francaise des Jeux will be looking to him for a good finish on GC, and the timing would be ripe, considering he is one year off cycling “maturity” at 26. Moreover, the Frenchman is developing into quite an all-rounder, adept at sprinting from small groups but also a solid time-trialist.
After years with Classics-orientated squads Lotto and Palmans, the team’s lone Belgian here, Christophe Detilloux, can be forgiven for wondering what he’s doing in Italy with a French team! Following some strong performances in the Classics, notably the Tour of Flanders and the Three Days of De Panne, the 31 year old has been picked for the ride for mainly his experience (as the oldest in the team) and diligence, though he may be an aggressor on a stage or two. Detilloux, a seasoned professional now in his tenth year of racing, actually rode the race last year with Lotto-Domo, abandoning on the mountainous sixteenth stage.
The latter note on aggression also applies to Freddy Bichot, whose attacking nature won him the Etoile des Besseges this Febuary. However, since that season-opening ice-breaker, more results have been hard to come by. Still, he looks to be the rider most likely to fill the combative void left by that endearingly serial attacker Jacky Durand. Alongside Wilson, Bichot is the only survivor from last year’s Fdj Giro team.
The baby of the team is Cyrille Monnerais, who at the age of 21 and in his neo-professional year is being thrown into the deep end with a three-week tour. Nonetheless, the team advisors will hope that the Jean Floc’h graduate will swim rather than sink and finish the race, drawing on his experiences gained here for the future.
Francaise des Jeux - Giro Lineup
Freddy Bichot (France, 25 years old)
Sandy Casar (Fra, 26)
Baden Cooke (Aus, 26)
Carlos Da Cruz (Fra, 30)
Christophe Detilloux (Bel, 31)
Lilian Jégou (Fra, 29)
Cyrille Monnerais (Fra, 21)
Mark Renshaw (Aus, 22)
Matthew Wilson (Aus, 27)
For more information on the squad, visit the Francaise des Jeux team website.