Ahead of Europcar’s WorldTour debut at the Tour Down Under next week, manager Jean-René Bernaudeau has spoken of his pride at achieving top flight status with his existing roster rather than by deliberately signing new riders replete with UCI points.
The French squad is the only new addition to the WorldTour ranks in 2014 and was, indeed, the only new applicant for a berth. Europcar’s accession was eased still further following the demise of the Vacansoleil-DCM and Euskaltel-Euskadi teams at the end of last season.
“What makes me most proud is that we’re in the WorldTour thanks to my lads and not because of points picked up by buying this or that rider from the outside,” Bernaudeau told L’Équipe. “We’ve reached this level without enormous financial means and, above all, we’re there without having sold our soul.”
Bernaudeau’s team was one of the founder members of the WorldTour (then ProTour) in 2005, when it was sponsored by Bouygues Telecom, but the Vendée-based squad dropped down to Pro Continental level following the 2009 season. Bernaudeau’s men have remained at that level since Europcar came on board as title sponsor in 2011, and the car hire company extended its commitment to the team last autumn before promotion to the WorldTour was assured.
“I know our values and it’s on those foundations that we signed our contract with Europcar even before we were accepted into the WorldTour,” Bernaudeau said. “I’ll never go signing big-name riders to strengthen my group because unlike certain teams, we make our own champions ourselves, not with our cheque book. They grow with us at Vendée U [Bernaudeau’s amateur team] before turning professional.
“I didn’t want to go looking for the WorldTour at any cost. I wanted us to get back up there naturally. I saw so many teams stay there by buying riders with points. With us, Bryan Coquard wasn’t on the circuit a year ago, but he’s got a lot of points today.”
While Europcar has been invited to the Tour de France in each of its three years as sponsor, the squad has not competed in more than one grand tour in a season since 2010. However, Bernaudeau is confident his roster can cope with the increased programme of top-level races.
“I haven’t even thought about it. It’s not in my make-up to have complexes,” he said. “I’m convinced that my riders will be even better than in 2013.”
Bernaudau also declared himself confident that Thomas Voeckler will recover quickly from the broken collarbone that has ruled him out of the Tour Down Under. The former maillot jaune crashed in training on the day he arrived in Australia, and is set to return to Europe on Thursday.
“He went to Australia to prepare the start of the season. He was dreaming of Paris-Nice, it was his main objective to add a line to his palmarès,” Bernaudeau told L'Équipe. “It doesn’t change anything for the team, because it’s only January and the season is long. Thomas will be back quickly, I’m not worried for him.”