AG2R La Mondiale: 2015 Report Card

French team put in a respectable effort to improve on successful 2014

WorldTour ranking: 11/17
Win count: 23 (up from 17)
Top riders: Romain Bardet, Alexis Gougeard, Jan Bakelants, Alexis Vuillermoz, Domenico Pozzovivo

Coming off of the high of having a Jean-Christophe Peraud as the runner-up of the Tour de France in 2014 and Romain Bardet in the top 10, it would be a tall order for AG2R La Mondiale to improve upon that performance in 2015, but the French team put in a respectable effort. The one major black mark on their record this year was the EPO positive of Lloyd Mondory, who was quickly and emotionally denounced by his betrayed team manager Vincent Lavenu.

The early season was not terribly friendly to AG2R La Mondiale on the road, either. Although they scored some victories, it was clear that Peraud had come into the season half-baked and would face an uphill battle for the Tour. He managed to pull out a repeat victory in the Criterium International, but when it came to the Tour de France it was clear he was in no shape to repeat his second place ride from the previous season. He'd already been relegated to fetching bottles when he had a high-speed crash on stage 13, but he soldiered on through to Paris.

Bardet's hopes for the general classification in the Tour de France were already somewhat dashed by the time the race hit its first major summit finish - he came into the stage with a four-minute deficit thanks to a poor opening time trial and missing the split in the crosswinds on stage 2 - but coming in 8:50 behind Chris Froome at La Pierre-Saint-Martin was the nail in the coffin.

The team's Tour fortunes turned around on stage 8, when Alexis Vuillermoz nabbed his first Grand Tour stage win by attacking the race favourites on the Mur-de-Bretagne and holding off Dan Martin.

Never one to give up, Bardet rallied in the high mountains, stomping over his favourite terrain with a vengeance. He entered into the day's breakaway on stage 12 but faded to third behind Joaquim Rodriguez. He seemed set to contest the stage victory in Mende, but a bit too much cat and mouse with rival Thibaut Pinot in the final climb allowed MTN-Qhubeka's Stephen Cummings to come across and outmanoeuvre them for the win. His day finally came on stage 18 to St-Jean-de-Maurienne, where he put his descending skills to good use to distance his breakaway companions on the drop from the Col du Glandon, then held off the chase of Pierre Rolland to claim his first Grand Tour stage victory. He wore the polka dot jersey for one stage but conceded that classification to Chris Froome.

These performances, a breakthrough victory by Alexis Gougeard in the Vuelta a Espana, and Domenico Pozzovivo's stage win and third place overall in the Volta a Catalunya all made up for the non-performance of Colombian Carlos Betancur. The 2014 Paris-Nice winner came into the season visibly lacking form and was unable to follow the pace in the Giro d'Italia's opening week. He showed some spark by stage 11, where he took second to Ilnur Zakarin in Imola, but then vanished into the hills of Colombia to be with his family and new child, never to be seen in the team until August, when he and AG2R La Mondiale parted ways.

The team seemed to struggle to get the most out of their newest members, with Jan Bakelants having little luck until the end of the season, where he won the Giro del Piemonte and Giro dell'Emilia, both in his signature solo fashion.

What to expect for 2016

The team will look to further develop Bardet into a Grand Tour podium contender. The 25-year-old will profit from a 2016 Tour de France parcours that has fewer flat time trial kilometres and more time spent going uphill. A few stages with tricky downhills near the finish could suit this daredevil descender as well.

Aside from Bardet, the team will look to Vuillermoz to further bolster their win column, and Domenico Pozzovivo to continue to put out strong results in his home country. They've made very few changes to the roster for the coming year, adding only Jesse Sergent from Trek and Cyril Gautier from Europcar to replace Betancur and Rinaldo Nocentini.

Biggest signing

With only two new riders, Sergent and Gautier, it's a toss-up as to which one is better. Both offer a bit of Classics flavour to the team, but neither is a prolific champion. Johan Vansummeren was supposed to bolster the team's Classics squad but had no luck this season. The new additions will likely serve to help a rider like Vuillermoz in the Ardennes Classics rather than give AG2R a real option for the cobbles.

One to watch for 2016

Vuillermoz gained an enormous amount of momentum with his stage win in the Tour de France. He went on to take out the Rio Olympic test event in August, and a stage of the Tour du Gevaudan Languedoc-Roussillon.

Although he is 27, he only made the switch from mountain biking to the road in 2013, and it took him some time to adjust to the new demands. He showed on both the Mur-de-Bretagne and the Mur de Huy that he is capable of matching the sport's best riders on a steep, punchy finishing climb. Already sixth in this year's Fleche Wallonne, it will be exciting to see what he can do with three Grand Tours now in his legs, a bit more confidence and another year of experience behind him.

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