2012 report card: Since its inception in 1997, the success or failure of FDJ’s season has been measured almost exclusively by its impact at the Tour de France. With Thibaut Pinot featuring on the front page of L’Équipe on the Tuesday after the race finished under the heading “Can he win the Tour?,” suffice to say that it was mission accomplished for Marc Madiot’s platoon in 2012.
Pinot made light of his status as the youngest rider at the Tour by soloing to a fine stage victory at Porrentruy, having already defied Madiot’s orders not to infiltrate the break of the day, and, more impressively, he matched the leaders pedal stroke for pedal stroke through much of the Alps and Pyrenees. At just 22 years of age, Pinot understandably had a couple of jours sans along the way, but he still reached Paris in a promising 10th place.
Not that Pinot was alone in flying the flag for FDJ in 2012, as two fellow members of a seemingly golden generation of French talent showed sustained flashes of their potential in the sprints. World under-23 champion Arnaud Démare got his professional career off to a flying start by claiming the scalp of Mark Cavendish at the Tour of Qatar and he would go on to take five more wins, including the Vattenfall Cyclassics. The explosive Nacer Bouhanni – who boxed in his youth and follows a fighter’s training regimen during the off-season – was not to be outdone, as he picked up seven victories, including the French championships, where his dauphin was a visibly distraught Démare.
Of the older guard, Pierrick Fédrigo enjoyed a timely return to form by winning in Pau at the Tour for the second time in three years after Lyme disease had ruined the intervening season. Elsewhere, Sandy Casar narrowly missed out on both a stage win and a spell in pink at the Giro d’Italia, while Jérémy Roy was similarly unfortunate not to get the rewards his aggression deserved over the course of the season.
What to expect in 2013: When Pinot was packing his suitcase for his maiden Tour last June, the only interruptions were a couple of phone calls, one from Cyclingnews and another from his local paper. By December, twelve pages of Vélo Magazine’s season review was devoted to Pinot, and a photographer and reporter were assigned to follow him to Paris as he watched his beloved Paris Saint-Germain play at the Parc des Princes.
In short, Pinot will never again enjoy as low-key a Tour build-up as he did in last year and much of the success or failure of his 2013 campaign will be predicated by how he copes with the attention. The early signs on that score are promising, as he appeared utterly unperturbed by exponentially increasing size of the media scrum outside the FDJ bus each day at the Tour. If he maintains that kind of perspective, there is no reason why Pinot cannot make hay in the mountains of the 2013 Tour, even if his relatively weak time trialling means that the white jersey may remain out of reach for another year.
Much attention will also focus on how the sprint pairing of Démare and Bouhanni manage to dovetail their talents in 2013, although Madiot has already angrily dismissed any prospect of intramural strife, pointing out that the two sprinter approach is one successfully employed by a number of other teams. Madiot has also confessed that, in the WorldTour era, FDJ must start broadening its horizons beyond the white heat of July. Improving on last year’s scant tally of four WorldTour wins is imperative and FDJ should in theory pose more of a threat in the classics with the return of Yoann Offredo from suspension.
Best signing: In their final year as amateurs in 2009, there was little to separate Alexandre Geniez and Thibaut Pinot, as they claimed the prestigious Ronde de l’Isard and Giro della Valle d’Aosta, respectively. The youngsters continued to match each other blow for blow in the pro ranks the following year, as Geniez finished second in the Route du Sud while Pinot claimed the mountains jersey at the Tour de Romandie.
Over the past two seasons, however, the younger Pinot has taken a leap in quality while Geniez stalled somewhat at Argos-Shimano. Denied a Tour debut last July, Geniez immediately announced that he would leave the team, tired, he said, of being asked to work for sprinters instead of chase results of his own in the mountains. Now united with his friend Pinot at FDJ, Geniez will be hoping to rediscover the verve of a couple of years ago. Still only 24 years of age, time is on his side.
Biggest loss: The retirement of Frédéric Guesdon after the cobbled classics last year broke FDJ’s final link with the original Française des Jeux roster of 1997. The former Paris-Roubaix winner was something of a mentor to FDJ's younger charges in his twilight years, a line-up that seems light years removed from the original roster, which included such, er, luminaries as Davide Rebellin and Mauro Gianetti.
Man to watch: Yoann Offredo returns from a year-long suspension for clocking up three whereabouts violations eager to make up for lost time in the classics and pick up where he left off in 2011. Back then, the stylish Frenchman hinted at his considerable potential with some insouciant attacking at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Milan-San Remo, and in mid-December he had already signalled his ambitions for 2013 by leading an FDJ reconnaissance of the finales of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Offredo has voiced his frustration that the riders who testified to USADA in the Lance Armstrong case received six-month bans for years of systematic blood doping, while he had to sit out a whole season as punishment for missing three missed tests. He has a point, but regardless of his protestations, that suspension has added an additional layer of controversy and intrigue to a rider prone to grandiose declarations to the press (“I often have the impression of riding with knife to my throat,” he said of the pressure to perform at the classics) and a man who was, he claims, all but shunned by many of his teammates during his year on the sidelines.