For Cofidis, last year will be marked by the destructive doping scandal surrounding the team more than any particular successes, as, like a hurricane at a trailer park, the scandal ripped the team apart, resulting in a significant revamping of the team backbone: in the course of the “Cofidis Affair”, several riders were cited in doping scandals and consequently sacked, while a couple of directeur sportifs also either resigned or were forced out. Also, company head Francois Migraine introduced a new anti-drug charter to ensure a clean team.
Yet through the carnage and into the aftermath of this scandal, Cofidis managed to pull out a fine Tour de France, as sprinter-turned-aggresor Stuart O’Grady poached a stage win from the only breakaway to get away in the first week, and David Moncoutié took an emotional win in his home region. This time round, the squad will be hoping to take another stage or even emulate that fine performance, and they come to the race with an experienced squad, considering only two team members are under the age of thirty.
O’Grady will be gunning for another stage triumph, while Chavanel could yet materialise into one of the race’s big surprises in the mountains. However, more likely than not, it will be he and Moncoutié on the attack in the mountains or in the transition stages; both are mentally very fragile. Still, Moncoutié has finished in the top fifteen before, and that’s certainly achievable again.
The Tour Team
There is the irrepressible Stuart O’Grady, who has recently developed into a jack-of-all-trades, upon the realisation that his finishing kick isn’t what it used to be. With his aggressive riding, an early stint in the green jersey – like last year – is distinctly possible, while a stage win from a break or even a bunch gallop is also a handy option.
The amicable Australian will be supported in bunch sprints by some of the best domestiques in the peloton. Belgian Thierry Marichal, described by previous leader Robbie McEwen as “the perfect domestique”, is superb in the finale of flat stages, with a fine nous for positioning and sprint stoking.
O’Grady’s good friend and countryman Matthew White will finally be hoping to start the Tour after crashing out just hours before the race began last year while training on the prologue course – getting through the first week without falling should be Priority #1! Former Estonian champion Janek Tombak will also be helping “Stuey” while still concentrating on his own race. A competent sprinter, the Tour de Picardie winner had several sprint top tens last year, and will be looking for the same kind of finishes this time round, though he is still capable of infiltrating a breakaway. However, with his speed, he is a good leadout man and will have no qualms about helping his Australian captain in the final kilometre.
That leaves the all-French nucleus of the team, which will be slightly more orientated toward overall opportunities and mountain stage chances than in previous years. David Moncoutié and Sylvain Chavanel will be sharing the burden of leadership, though one feels that the former has more proven quality in the high mountains. But despite his brittle psychological temperament, Moncoutié is the best climber the French have – a foray in the King of the Mountains competition, following in the footsteps of Monsieur Virenque, could suit Moncoutié, though it’s more likely the thirty year old will go for a stage win coupled with a solid overall finish.
Sylvain Chavanel has been flaunted as the next French hope for the national Tour, but he dearly needs to produce a steadfast, consistent approach to the general classification soon. Now twenty-six, his best finish was 30th in 2004. While the public has seen rare glimpses of his climbing ability, his capacity in the high mountains when under pressure is very much unknown. He can “afford” to dawdle for another year, but really needs a competent performance as much as for his own morale as the French public’s/
Experienced riders like road captain Cedric Vasseur and Frédéric Bessy will be helping both sprinters and mountain men in the Grande Boucle. Some people may remember Vasseur’s gutsy Tour ride back in 1997, when he took the yellow jersey after a gutsy 150km long solo breakaway. As well as offering a steadying hand, Vasseur is still a valuable asset, versatile on flat, hills or mountains. The stages in the Massif Central could be hand-made for him.
The last but certainly not least Cofidis rider is serial attacker Stephane Augé. The French journeyman is an ideal rider to have for the first week, for he is adept at getting in one or two doomed breakaways which still allow for a couple of hours of precious television airtime for the sponsors. Indeed, his potential as a bona fide billboard-on-wheels is probably what got him the call over unspectacular but more reliable men like Engoulvent or Edaleine.
Cofidis for the Tour
Stephane Augé (Fra) – 30 years old
Frédéric Bessy (Fra) – 33
Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) – 26
Thierry Marichal (Bel) – 32
David Moncoutié (Fra) – 30
Stuart O’Grady (Aus) – 31
Janek Tombak (Est) – 28
Cédric Vasseur (Fra) – 34
Matthew White (Aus) - 30