The last time Bouygues Telecom, then known as Bonjour, rode the Giro d’Italia was in 2001. Four years on, the number of survivors from that pioneering nine-man team in this year’s event is a round zero – in fact, nearly half of the 2005 team would still have been teenagers then. Still, it’s no surprise that Bouygues Telecom have packed their squad with enthuastic young guns for this race, though there still remains the underlying quality of several experienced riders, who will undoubtedly steady the nerves and offer some key advice to their younger colleagues – three of whom are neo-pros! Indeed, almost all the young riders in the squad let alone the team have come from the direct feeder club Vendee U.
It’s difficult to see where a stage victory will come from, and overall chances don’t look too hopeful either. Still, team captain Didier Rous will be spearheading the charge for the maglia rosa, in hope of a top thirty finish, while one of the members of the young team backbone could yet emerge. Still, breakaways look to be the best bet for Bouygues Telecom, in what could be a very challenging and frustrating Giro for them.
Leader on the road Didier Rous must really feel his age in pre-race pep talks as he sees the sea of eager, fresh-faced youngsters peering back at him with innocent eyes! However, the thirty-four year old doesn’t show his age on the road, with constant attacking displays, and he seems to revel in the role as mentor to the younger riders. While his powers may be on the wane, with twentieth in the centenary Tour two years ago and a GP Plouay victory last year, Rous is Bouygues Telecom’s best chance for a solid finish on the general classification. His season has been slow to date, but a top twenty-five placing in a particularly nasty edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege augurs well.
The other riders exempt from the 18-30 club on this three-week tour are Walter Bénéteau and Franck Renier. Bénéteau is an able climber, who has been found mixing it for the King of the Mountains jersey in the first week molehills of the last two Tours de France. Nonetheless, in the 2003 Tour, he also nabbed fifth on the attritional stage to Loudenvielle, an agonising ten seconds behind stage winner Gilberto Simoni. However this year, it looks like he’ll be considerably more adrift of “Gibo”, barring some sort of miracle/mishap.
Laval-born Renier is actually probably Bouygues Telecom’s best stand-alone chance of a stage victory, as he is the best proven sprinter on the roster. While fifth at the 2003 Paris-Tours stands out as his most creditable result in recent year, it’s difficult to see Franck Renier mixing it with the likes of Petacchi and Zabel for a sprint victory, though he could well grab a top ten finish or two - somehow, when you think of top sprinters, Renier doesn't quite cut it. Second year pro Rony Martias also has a fast finish, but isn’t a very good climber and doesn’t quite have the maturity required to duke it out with the world’s best yet. Still, as for most of the team, it will be a learning experience for him, first and foremost.
Laurent Lefevre, though still 28, is a deceptively ‘war-wearied’ professional, having lasted nearly ten years of life. As a model of consistency and dependability, Lefevre is a valuable asset to this team, which looks to be feeling the effects of having to constantly jostle for results with nineteen other top teams.
The rest of the team consists of four young guns, only one of which has full professional experience. Christophe Kern, while still young, has been a pro with the squad since 2003, which was a great breakthrough year for him as he took the GP Rudy Dhaenens. A solid time-trialist, he should be a valuable domestique and could surprise against the clock.
In this all-French squad, not one, but three riders are receiving a baptism of fire, as a trio of neo-pros face their first Grand Tour, all with scarce big-race experience. Considering their predicament, if any make it reach Milan after three weeks, it will be taken as a positive. Mathieu Claude is perhaps the most promising of the three, having won the U23 version of Paris-Tours two years ago. Joining him are Olivier Bonnaire and Giovanni Bernaudeau, the son of Bouygues Telecom (anyone who can pronounce that team name correctly deserves some kind of medal) directeur sportif Jean-Rene - I'm sure any calls of nepotism have been shouted down! While everyone will suffer in the course of finishing, it should be a particularly severe test in pain endurance for these three "newbs".
Bouygues Telecom – Giro Lineup
Walter Beneteau (Fra, 32)
Giovanni Bernaudeau (Fra, 21)
Olivier Bonnaire (Fra, 22)
Mathieu Claude (Fra, 22)
Christophe Kern (Fra, 24)
Laurent Lefevre (Fra, 28)
Rony Martias (Fra, 24)
Franck Renier (Fra, 31)
Didier Rous (Fra, 34)
For more information on the squad, visit the Bouygues Telecom team website.