Cofidis and Europcar: 2015 Report Cards

A frustrating year for one French team, a stressful one for the other

Team: Cofidis
Win Count: 21 (Up from 10 in 2014)
Top Riders: Nacer Bouhanni (11 wins), Anthony Turgis (2 wins), Jonas Ahlstrand (2 wins)

The Cofidis management will look back on the 2015 season with a sense of satisfaction and frustration in equal measure. It was a season that saw a seismic shift in the team’s orientation and although it was very good, it might have been have been brilliant, but for repeated doses of ill fortune.

The team’s signing of Nacer Bouhanni was something of a game-changer, causing them to build things around a sprinter in a way they had never done before. The teething problems were clear as Bouhanni endured a barren start to the season, having to wait until April to take a first victory in his new red jersey.

But then things began to click between Bouhanni and his support set-up led by Geoffrey Soupe, as the Frenchman took out two stages of the Circuit Sarthe and the GP de Denain Porte du Hainaut. Fast-forward to June, and two stage wins and the points jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné made him one of the most in-form sprinters of the moment, and there was rising excitement ahead of the Tour de France.

But that’s where the ill fortune started in earnest. Shortly before the Tour he crashed at the French nationals, and Bouhanni would have to pick himself up off the ground on nine more occasions before the season was out. A bandaged Bouhanni was able to take to the start of the Tour, only to crash out on stage 5, before the sprint opportunities had really opened up. It was a similar tale at the Vuelta a Espana, where he suffered a string of tumbles, a mass pile-up on stage 8 forcing him out of the race. He has now abandoned all but one of the seven Grand Tours he has ridden.

Still, Bouhanni was able to clock up wins in some smaller races in between all the crashes, and even came out on top in the Coupe de France series. He managed to end the season on 11 victories – that’s more than half of the team’s entire haul.

There were some other pockets of success, with 21-year-old neo-pro Anthony Turgis winning a stage and the overall of the Boucles de la Mayenne, and 22-year-old Christophe Laporte winning the Tour de Vendée. With Bouhanni only 25 himself, it was good news on the youth front, but not so much for the elder statesmen.

Dani Navarro, the team’s most experienced rider and a top-10 finisher at the Tour de France in 2013, endured a disappointing campaign, itself shaped by crashes. Injuries sustained on home soil at the Vuelta a Andalucía and the Volta a Catalunya disrupted the first half of his season and meant that he was always playing catch-up, ultimately holding him back at the Tour and Vuelta, both of which he did complete.

What to expect in 2016

Expect another season where things revolve around Bouhanni. The Frenchman already had a contract up to the end of 2016 but decided in September to add another year on.

Cofidis have clearly been convinced that this new-found vision of revolving things around a sprinter is the way forward, and Bouhanni himself is clearly happy with the prospects on offer at the team. It is a show of commitment that should allow the partnership to blossom with mutually beneficial results.

Cofidis are once again set for the Pro Continental ranks, which means they are still awaiting wildcards and confirmation of which exact races will form their 2016 calendar. Still, they should be taking their customary place at the Tour and Vuelta. Jérôme Cousin has joined from Europcar and will be able to carry on the tradition of getting into breaks, while Arnold Jeannesson, who was a key man for Thibaut Pinot at FDJ, should bolster the team’s GC ambitions – where Dani Navarro is once again set to lead the line.

Biggest signing for 2016

At the risk of banging on about Bouhanni, the most significant piece of action for Cofidis in this transfer window might just be getting the Frenchman to extend his commitment for another year, as outlined above.

If you’re after an actual signing, you could still look to Bouhanni, albeit Rayane, Nacer’s younger brother, but it is perhaps another French neo-pro who catches the eye to a greater extent. Hugo Hofstetter broke off the front to win the U23 French nationals this year, boasts a good turn of speed, and could be one for the future.

One to watch in 2016

Anthony Turgis enjoyed a really encouraging neo-pro season and should be expected to kick on next year. This year was all about learning and gaining experience, and he managed to pick up a couple of wins along the way, while also playing important domestique roles. He won the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year and was third at the U23 World Championships in Richmond this year, where he set up teammate Kevin Ledanois for the win, so the potential is clear.

Team: Europcar
Win Count: 9 (Down from 12 in 2014)
Top Riders: Bryan Coquard (4 wins)

What a stressful year it has been for Europcar, the 16-year-old French team. You could understand if Jean-René Brenaudeau, who has been in charge since the start, has barely had time to think about how his team has fared in actual bike races.

The most pressing issue he has had to face is whether there would be a team full-stop in 2016. Europcar announced late last year that it would not be renewing its sponsorship in 2016, causing the team to drop down to the Pro Conti ranks and leaving Bernaudeau with a frantic chase for financial backing in order to secure the future of the team beyond the end of 2015. Surrounded by such uncertainty, it was only natural that riders would start thinking about looking after their own interests and finding work elsewhere for next year. Some did, like Cyril Gautier, and some didn’t, but in any case, it hardly made for an environment that would breed success.

Europcar ended the season with nine victories – their lowest total since 2007. How long ago does it seem that Thomas Voeckler was spending day after day in the yellow jersey at the Tour in 2011, or that the team was storming its way to 27 victories and a WorldTour licence in 2013? In a way, that might be part of the problem. The squad was inflated for 2014 and their failure to secure another WorldTour license for this year left them with a hefty roster but a much lighter race schedule. Structuring riders’ calendars was a real hurdle, and what resulted was a campaign bereft of any rhythm or momentum.

Bryan Coquard was the team’s chief bread-winner with four victories, and the promising French sprinter’s season was tinged with hope but also disappointment. Ultimately he was a nearly-man, finishing second or third 12 times, including a good run on the Champs Elysees, and though there was further confirmation of his potential, a big step forward was expected and not really delivered.

Pierre Rolland won a stage and the overall at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, and was 10th overall at the Tour, which was a very decent performance. Voeckler, however, another of the team’s most important figures, endured a second successive barren season. The team was prominent and aggressive at the Vuelta but they have always been, and should be, so much more than mere air-time hunters.

What to expect in 2016

A new identity and a new start. The team will be known as Direct Energie, after Bernaudeau finally found joy in his search for a sponsor. The team should once again be in the Pro Continental ranks and have adjusted accordingly, letting go of 10 riders and bringing in six, four of whom are neo-pros.

Rolland has left for Cannondale-Garmin, leaving a rather worrying GC-shaped hole, not helped by the signs that Voeckler is something of a spent force. Focus will naturally shift to Coquard, who has the potential to earn considerable success for the team – perhaps a more settled environment will help him in that respect. That said, Coquard is a strong rider on the track – a silver medallist in the omnium at London 2012 and a reigning madison world champion – and the Rio Olympics will, understandably, be a big goal.

It will be difficult to strike a balance with the road ambitions with Direct Energie, and you can’t help but fear their 2016 Report Card will suffer as a result.

Biggest signing for 2016

As with Cofidis, Europcar’s best move in the transfer window might not be a signing in the true sense of the word. Bryan Coquard is unequivocally the team’s brightest asset, and there was a very real possibility of losing him amid all the aforementioned uncertainty – there won’t have been a shortage of interest in the sprinter, that’s for sure.

Coquard might have pondered a move, but he has stayed loyal to the team where he has begun to break through. With Rolland on the move and Voeckler on the wane, Direct Energie would look worryingly short of a talisman next year without Coquard.

One to watch in 2016

The signing of Sylvain Chavanel is an interesting one, especially since the Frenchman had pretty much pledged his commitment to Bernaudeau even in the midst of the panicked sponsor hunt. Chavanel started his career at the team under Bernaudeau’s tutelage in 2000, and the move brings things full circle. He has ridden 15 Tours de France, winning three stages, and as such he should slot into the team as a hugely important presence in terms of experience and leadership.

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