By Shane Stokes
The Ag2r Prévoyance team looks set to take its place amongst cycling’s biggest teams next year with the news that its has been awarded the 20th and final ProTour licence for 2006. Today was d-day for the French squad, with the UCI’s licensing commission of Pierre Zappelli, Henri Hurter and Hans Hoehener deciding to grant Vincent Lavenu’s team a four year slot in the ProTour.
"This is a great satisfaction [for us]," said Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu, upon hearing the news. "We've reached our goal after two years of effort from our sponsors and our sporting group. 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."
Although the team was turned down by the commission last year, an increase in budget plus the signings of high-profile riders such as Francisco Mancebo and Christophe Moreau, 4th and 11th in this year’s Tour de France, ensured that Ag2r’s candidature was much stronger this time round.
Their case was also helped considerably when two challengers fell by the wayside; the Spanish Comunidad Valenciana outfit decided to withdraw their application several weeks ago, while a new team to be run by Fassa Bortolo manager Giancarlo Ferretti disintegrated when it emerged that its supposed backers, Sony Ericsson, did not actually intend to sponsor the team. However Ag2r still needed to convince the licensing commission of the value of their application; although the UCI said today that it would not be making an official declaration until the time for appeals has past, it appears the team has done just that.
Today’s news means that France now has five ProTour teams, as compared to four for Spain and three for Italy. Ag2r are due to meet for their first training camp in Temple sur Lot on December 6th, where all bar Simon Gerrans (who is currently at home in Australia) will train together and discuss the likely programme for 2006. The team currently comprises 25 riders. Their elevation to the ProTour means that another two will be signed shortly.