Although they are only now making their debut in the Tour de Langkawi, Française des Jeux are the most popular French team in all the surveys conducted in their country, even if they didn't have a good Tour de France last year because mostly top rider Bradley McGee didn't race due to a back injury and Sandy Casar wasn't at his best.
The team has competed the past ten Tours de France, and had their highest point when McGee won the prologue and wore yellow jersey in the centennial Tour in 2003. They remain highly popular mostly because of the charisma of their team manager Marc Madiot, a former Paris-Roubaix winner. Madiot could not come to Malaysia this year, but promised that he'll pay a visit to Malaysia in the future if, as expected, the members of his team fall in love with Langkawi.
The inclusion of FdJ for the first time also serves as a big improvement for the race this year. The Tour de Langkawi now brings five ProTour teams to the line, up from three in 2006.
The start of FdJ's debut race in Langkawi on Friday also marks the 28th birthday of team leader Casar, who will also be riding in Malaysia for the first time since he turned professional in 1999. Having finished sixth in the Giro d'Italia last year, Casar starts the 2007 season knowing that he has what it takes to cut it at the very top of the pro peloton, and thus has decided to get the best preparation he can get in Langkawi.
"I want to start racing in a hot country," Casar explained. "In France, we have early season races that I don't really like, and I know that 1,300 kilometres of cycling in Malaysia is a better way to gear up for the new season. In March, I want to be just as good in Paris-Nice as in 2002 when I finished 2nd. I heard Le Tour de Langkawi is a very well organised race, and the stages aren't flat, which is good for me."
Being a winner of the Route du Sud in the Pyrenees in 2005, Casar is known as a climber, and he should enjoy stage three in the Cameron Highlands. The stage race might not be his main goal for the 2007 season, but he's not the kind of rider who shows up at races for training. He has the old-school mentality and that has cost him good condition at the 2006 Tour de France after he spent too much energy in the Giro d'Italia. For this reason, he plans to skip the Giro and focus on the Tour de France in 2007 after a competitive early season that includes Langkawi and Paris-Nice.
The Française des Jeux line up for Le Tour de Langkawi will be: Sandy Casar (Fra), Tim Gudsell (NZl), Lilian Jégou (Fra), Johan Lindgren (Swe), Ian McLeod (RSA) and Fabien Patanchon (Fra).