Champion feels pressure to perform at Tour Down Under
The AG2R-La Mondiale team made the top tier of the professional cycling world this year and are assured a place in the Tour de France, but the team's directeur sportif Laurent Biondi knows that it will have to improve in order to be assured its spot in the World Tour in 2012.
"We're aware that we've made the World Tour by just," Biondi told Cyclingnews. AG2R-La Mondiale was ranked 20th by the UCI's sporting criteria, but they made the cut of the 18 ProTeams. The UCI has yet to give an explanation to the public on why the French team was chosen for the top 18 over 18th placed Geox-TMC, but a possible explanation would be that Vincent Lavenu was already holding a ProTour licence for 2011.
Biondi knows his team has to perform better this year to keep its place in the World Tour in 2012. "We've been told that for now, the same sporting evaluation criteria are in place, but we also heard that it might be changed and we'll get to know the new points scale in March," Biondi said.
"It's weird to start the season without knowing exactly how it works but any information coming from the UCI earlier than in October will be an improvement compared to last year. It came to us as a shock when the sporting evaluation ranking was released and we had no clue of what the criteria were. It means we didn't know what to base our recruitment on. We hope the UCI will inform us of the rules this time around."
Currently taking part in the Santos Tour Down Under, the team is looking to former French champion Dimitri Champion for results. He and his teammates have been very active in the breakaways this week, and Champion admitted that it has something to do with the World Tour selection process and the need to perform all year round.
"I think the best way to start the season is to come here in Australia," Champion emphasized. He took part in the Tour Down Under during his first two pro seasons with Bouygues Telecom in 2007 and 2008, but he didn't have the opportunity to come when he raced for continental team Bretagne-Schuller in 2009 and he had to honour his French champion jersey on home soil when he joined AG2R-La Mondiale one year ago.
After going winless in his season in the blue, white and red jersey, Champion is keen to gain some results. "The team never put any particular pressure on me," he said, "but as I was coming into a new team, I wanted to do well and I probably wanted too much. I never had great feelings last year. Now I'm hungry to win again. To do so, I've decided to come back to the basics."
"I'm a man of coups," he described himself. "I think I can do more of them at nice classics like I've done at the 2009 French championship."
"We expect him to win races like he did that day," echoed Biondi. "Paris-Nice is an obvious goal for him to deliver results. For some reasons in the past few years we have performed very well in the early part of the season. This year, we're asking the riders to perform from the beginning. There are no small races. They all count for the qualification to the World Tour next year."