By Ben Atkins
AG2R-Prevoyance was presented to the press today in Paris' fashionable Boulevard Hausmann - just a stone's throw from the Grands Magazins, Galerie Lafayette and Printemps - with a new name.
Although the team will be called AG2R-La Mondiale in 2008, there is actually no new sponsor La Mondiale is a new corporate partner to AG2R, and so has been added to the team's name. Because of this, the team has actually changed very little in appearance to that of 2007.
Master of Ceremonies was Daniel Mangeas, the ever present and unmistakeable voice that can be heard at the start and finish of virtually every single French race of note. He first introduced André Renaudin, Director General of the AG2R-La Mondiale group; followed by the group's Director, Yvon Breton; and finally, the team's General Manager, Vincent Lavenu.
Lavenu referred to 2007 as "a satisfying year", that was "rich in success". The team's most successful rider, by far, was Christophe Moreau: winner of the Dauphiné Libéré and the French Championship. Moreau has since moved on to join the Agritubel team, but Lavenu was keen to emphasis that many other riders tasted some real success last season.
Former Swiss champion Elmiger started the team's season off with a bang by winning the overall classification of the Tour Down Under last January. This success was added to by many other riders, most notably Jean-Patrick Nazon, winning a stage of Paris-Nice; Rinaldo Nocentini winning a stage of the Tour of the Mediterranean and the GP Miguel Indurain; and Stéphane Poulhiès was premier Français at Paris-Roubaix (although it should be mentioned that he was 22nd!).
The darling of the 2006 Tour de France, Cyril Dessel had a bad year due to the affects of toxoplasmosis, but he's now fully recovered, and will be expected to have a better season this year.
Lavenu made no bones about the fact that, for a French team with French sponsors, the Tour de France is "Objectif numero un". Another target that was specifically mentioned was the Dauphiné Libéré, raced in region of Chambery, the company and the team's base.
In general though, "the objective is to win races," Lavenu said.
New faces to replace the old
By far the most high profile departure is Christophe Moreau, who took most of the team's high profile victories last year, and has been their leader in the Tour de France for two years, but the core of that team remains. Lavenu is looking to see how the unit built around Moreau can perform without him, "Moreau is gone, but the foundation is still in place", implying that he is expecting one of his other riders to slot into the vacant leader's position without him having to rebuild the entire team, perhaps Dessel or one of the team's new signings.
The 2008 team will comprise 30 riders: 18 French and 12 Foreigners - from 11 different countries, creating a team that is both "homogenous and international". Daniel Mangeas introduced them all with the same notes-free encyclopaedic knowledge that he does as they sign on to the races he's commentating.
Read the complete feature.