News Feature, January 31, 2008
AG2R-Prevoyance was presented to the press today in Paris' fashionable Boulevard Hausmann - just a stone's throw from the Grands Magazins, Galerie Lafayette and Printemps - with a new name. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins was there to witness the launch of the 2008 AG2R-La Mondiale team.
While the name has changed, there is actually no new sponsor La Mondiale is a new corporate partner to Ag2r, and so has been added to the team's name. Because of this, the team has actually changed very little in appearance to that of 2007.
Master of Ceremonies was Daniel Mangeas, the ever present and unmistakeable voice that can be heard at the start and finish of virtually every single French race of note. He first introduced André Renaudin, Director General of the AG2R-La Mondiale group; followed by the group's Director, Yvon Breton; and finally, the team's General Manager, Vincent Lavenu.
2007 in retrospect
Lavenu referred to 2007 as "a satisfying year", that was "rich in success". The team's most successful rider, by far, was Christophe Moreau: winner of the Dauphiné Libéré and the French Championship. Moreau has since moved on to join the Agritubel team, but Lavenu was keen to emphasis that many other riders tasted some real success last season.
"Moreau is gone, but the foundation is still in place." - General manager Vincent Lavenu explaining that the team can still perform without their 2007 star.
Former Swiss champion Elmiger started the team's season off with a bang by winning the overall classification of the Tour Down Under last January. This success was added to by many other riders, most notably Jean-Patrick Nazon, winning a stage of Paris-Nice; Rinaldo Nocentini winning a stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean and the GP Miguel Indurain; and Stéphane Poulhiès was premier Français at Paris-Roubaix (although it should be mentioned that he was 22nd!).
The darling of the 2006 Tour de France, Cyril Dessel had a bad year due to the affects of toxoplasmosis, but he's now fully recovered, and will be expected to have a better season this year.
Looking ahead to 2008
Lavenu made no bones about the fact that, for a French team with French sponsors, the Tour de France is "Objectif numero un". Another target that was specifically mentioned was the Dauphiné Libéré, raced in region of Chambery, the company and the team's base.
In general though, "the objective is to win races," Lavenu said.
New faces to replace the old
By far the most high profile departure is Christophe Moreau, who took most of the team's high profile victories last year, and has been their leader in the Tour de France for two years, but the core of that team remains. Lavenu is looking to see how the unit built around Moreau can perform without him, "Moreau is gone, but the foundation is still in place", implying that he is expecting one of his other riders to slot into the vacant leader's position without him having to rebuild the entire team, perhaps Dessel or one of the team's new signings.
The 2008 team will comprise 30 riders: 18 French and 12 Foreigners - from 11 different countries, creating a team that is both "homogenous and international". Daniel Mangeas introduced them all with the same notes-free encyclopaedic knowledge that he does as they sign on to the races he's commentating.
Recruitment has been of young riders and some high quality riders who may not yet be household names - there may be some big surprises in 2008. The team also maintains its Eastern European flavour, which dates back to the days of Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu (and Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov under its previous incarnation of Casino). Included in the roster are 2 Estonians, 1 Russian, 1 Ukrainian, 1 Moldavian, 1 Belarusian, and 1 Slovenian.
With five of last year's riders departing, eight new riders have been signed, including three neo-pros.
Young Estonian Tanel Kangert joins from Roue d'Or Saint-Aamandoise. According to his new team: "Tanel is a talented rider, who should make himself known in his first year as a professional."
Frenchman Jean-Charles Senac and Moldavian Alexandr Pliuschin join from the Chambéry Cyclisme Formation, a development team in the Alpine town supported by the Ag2r team.
"Jean-Charles has all the good qualities of a climber. As for Alexandr, he's been unlucky at the start of this season, fracturing his collarbone at the beginning of January, but he was recognised as one of the best amateurs in the world."
Although not a neo-pro, but new to the ProTour level - is Cédric Pineau, son of former rider Franck. He rode for the team as a stagiere at the end of last season, and coming as he is from the Roubaix Lille Metropole team, he will have the role of looking after the team leaders at the classics.
Experience, and stage race potential has been signed in the form of Tadej Valjavec from Lampre-Fondital, and Vladimir Efimkin from Caisse d'Epargne. "These are two new leaders of international level, specialists in stage races they will have a great role to play throughout the season". Potentially to fill the gap left by the departing Moreau.
Jokes were made about the continuing service of Stéphane Goubert who's now one of the peloton's oldest riders at almost 38 years of age. A professional since 1994, his experience will be invaluable to the team.
A new technical partner
The team has ended long association with B-twin and its parent company Decathlon whose bikes they had ridden for many years. From 2008 the AG2R-La Mondiale team will ride Spanish BH bikes - last seen in the ProTour ridden by the Liberty Seguros team. The team will ride Global Concept G4 road bikes and Global Concept Chono Aero bikes for Time Trials.
Punching above their weight
Once again this, the smallest of the six (yes, six!) French ProTour teams will be looking to produce results against their much more famous rivals. If the team that was built around Moreau can produce similar spirit around some of their newest riders, then watch this space.
For the full roster, see the Cyclingnews teams database.