News feature, November 29, 2005
AG2R riders and staff have reacted with satisfaction to the news that the team has e secured the 20th and final ProTour licence for 2006. Although the UCI has said that it will hold off on making an official announcement until the official period for appeal has elapsed, the French squad stated yesterday that the governing body's licensing commission had approved its application, granting a four year licence to the team.
"This is a great satisfaction [for us]," said Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu. "We've reached our goal after two years of effort from our sponsors and our team. Our tenacity was rewarded today. Ag2r-Prévoyance will head into the 2006 season with both motivation and optimism, guided by two leaders who are determined to excel at the big events."
Director of communication and Ag2r secretary general Yvon Breton was similarly upbeat. "The ProTour licence decision is great news, and is a victory for both our business and the faithful partnership we've formed with Vincent Lavenu over almost ten years," he said.
"We welcome the decision taken by the UCI which we awaited impatiently, even though we were serene and confident. On one hand, we knew that our application was solid and on the other, our sporting results from the past few seasons plus the quality of the reinforcement of our team for 2006 seemed to be major pluses towards our selection to the level of the world elite."
"We are very proud of this [ProTour] selection. It honours the quality of our engagement in a sport we are very attached to, because of its popularity, its values and the satisfaction it brings us each year. This is a very nice victory to begin the coming season with. It is a big day for Ag2r Prévoyance and for Vincent Lavenu, who took up the task [of getting a licence] with dynamism, perseverance, solidarity and determination. I have complete confidence that Vincent and his riders will rise to meet the challenge ahead."
Competing as a Continental Pro team in 2005, Ag2r succeeded in gaining important wildcard selections to several ProTour events, including the Tour de France. However the team was unable in 2005 to match its achievements of the previous season, when it took two Tour stage wins. Part of the reason that Jaan Kirsipuu (one of those stage victors) and 1997 world road race champion Laurent Brochard had moved on to other teams, leaving the squad without some vital firepower. But another reason was the difficulty in reaching and maintaining a high standard of form when the riders were competing in French domestic races rather than ProTour events.
One of the team's future hopes, Philip Deignan, told Cyclingnews about this last month. "It was much harder to go from one level to another," the Irishman said. "The style of racing is totally different. A 1.2 or 2.2 in France bears no comparison in terms of distance, the quality of the field and the speed. The style of competition is totally different, too, it is more like amateur racing. We are definitely at a disadvantage if you're not competing at the high level all the time."
Consequently, Deignan was upbeat when he heard the news on Monday. "It is great, there will be a lot of extra races for us next year. Getting the license isn't a really big surprise, but there was always the possibility that we could miss out."
"This season I got away with doing just three ProTour races as I was a first year pro, but next year I want to be able to do more to help my progression. So it is great news. Vincent Lavenu has been running thing since the team started as the Chazal team ten or 15 years ago. He has got a lot of experience, and I think it was big objective for him to get into the ProTour."
Deignan's compatriot Mark Scanlon was similarly happy. The former world junior champion had also been frustrated with the lack of ProTour events in 2005. "The team are going to get plenty of big racing next year, there will be no more small events like this season," he stated. "Waiting around to do the big events was a pain in the neck. Personally, it is essential to have a big volume of racing. For me, losing weight and getting into decent condition does not just happen on diet and training, I need good racing as well. So this is great news."
Like Scanlon and Deignan, the other young riders on the team will expect an increase in performance as a result of getting in more high-quality competition. But the team's fortunes won't just rely on this; through the signature of riders such as Francisco Mancebo and Christophe Moreau, Ag2r Prévoyance looks likely to step up a gear and take some important results in 2006, justifying its newfound place as part of cycling's elite.
Ag2r Prévoyance 2006: José Luis Arrieta, Mikel Astarloza, Sylvain Calzati, Iñigo Chaurreau, Philip Deignan, Cyril Dessel, Samuel Dumoulin, John Gadret, Simon Gerrans, Stéphane Goubert, Yuriy Krivtsov, Julien Loubet, Francisco Mancebo, Laurent Mangel, Lloyd Mondory, Christophe Moreau, Carl Naibo, David Navas, Jean-Patrick Nazon, Erki Putsep, Christophe Riblon, Mark Scanlon, Ludovic Turpin, Aliaksandr Usau and Tomas Vaitkus. Two more riders are expected to be added to the roster shortly.