French team AG2R La Mondiale will start the Tour of Beijing with a clear goal: to score as many UCI points as it possibly can. The squad directed by Vincent Lavenu is the only French team featuring World Tour status this season, but it could get relegated to Professional Continental level in 2012 for a lack of victories.
AG2R only had five wins this year, and its combined top ten results don't add up to enough points for the outfit to be on the safe side. Even though John Gadret finished fourth in the Giro d'Italia and his teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud placed in the top ten in Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné and the Tour de France, the squad is desperate for points at the end of the season.
"There are bonuses only for victories and not for good results," Lavenu explained to L'Equipe. "Either you win, which we don't, or you have to find solutions. Our sponsor and myself want to remain in First Division next year, so I have decided to try and find riders who win races."
Lavenu currently spends great amounts of time assessing his team points with a new software especially designed for the job. Comparing his outfit to other World Tour teams and taking into account the latest transfers, the Frenchman believes that AG2R sits between 15th and 20th place in the UCI ranking and therefore has no guarantees to remain in the World Tour.
Paradoxically, it is not the team's leaders that have the most points, but Anthony Ravard who won several races in the UCI Europe Tour: the overall Étoile de Bessèges, Classic de l’Indre and a stage at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes. "If I'm right, I think I have a total of 75 points in these last two years - the same amount as Jean-Christophe Péraud," said Ravard.
"I would have liked to ride a Grand Tour, but I was given a programme to score points in the individual classification of the Europe Tour. The hunt for points has become more important than the sporting aspect. And what about a rider that has sacrificed himself all season for his leader and whose contract runs out without a single point? His work will be forgotten and someone else who has points will be signed," he added.
Indeed, the team manager's choices in the composition of his 2012 roster reflect this reality. To date, Lavenu signed Jimmy Casper (13 victories in 2010 and 2011) and Manuel Belletti (six victories) but did not renew the contract of Dimitri Champion (zero victories). The leader of the Asia Tour Medhi Sohrabi was also made an offer, but the Iranian finally opted for Spanish team Geox.
In this context, pressure on the riders is high. "I would have liked to race the Italian Classics in October until the Giro di Lombardia, but I am in China to score points," said Péraud. "The boss knows how to work his calculator and a top eight result for me here is important to him."