In 2016, AG2R-La Mondiale has just four individual riders take victories. On Sunday at the Grand Prix d'Isbergues-Pas de Calais, Benoit Cosnefroy became the 11th rider on the 2017 roster to take a victory. It was also the first win of the 21-year-old's career after he turned professional with the team on August 1.
A stagiaire with AG2R-La Mondiale last year, Cosnefroy had ridden a handful of French and Belgian one-day races ahead of the Grand Prix d'Isbergues-Pas de Calais. The expected outcome of the 1.1 race was a sprint finish with the likes of Kristoffer Halvorsen (Joker), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) winning in recent years.
“Normally, the Grand Prix d'Isbergues is a race for the sprinters, and frankly, I never imagined such a scenario unfolding. After having started in the pros just this August, I am coming into the final part of the season pretty fresh," Cosnefroy said of his expectations.
With the Worlds U23 road race Friday his primary goal for September, Cosnefroy added that he started the race with zero personal ambition for a result.
Today I wanted to work for the team, and above all put in some good work ahead of the U23 World Championships in Bergen (Norway) on Friday," he said. "But suddenly I found myself in the front of the race without even having meant to. During the race, I told Stéphane Goubert that the team should chase the break even if I was in it."
On the final lap of the race, Cosnefroy explained he thought the win was in reach if he rolled the dice. With Pierre Gouault (HP BTP - Auber93) for company, Cosnefroy successfully decided to attack and avoid a two-up sprint for the win.
"But with something like 11.5 km to go to the finish in the last lap, we still had a little more than a minute gap, and I realized it might be possible to make it after all. I chose to attack before a final sprint and managed to take the win. I could not have dreamed that I would win my first professional race so soon."
Cosnefroy was quick to move on from his win, explaining the victory is a major confidence boost ahead of second and final U23 Worlds road race.
"I am very happy, but tonight I will put the victory at Isbergues aside in my mind and start to think about Bergen," he said. "I have taken a nice win, but I know that the race in Bergen won’t unfold the same way. But I’m ready and motivated."
Neo-pro teammate Rudy Barbier ensured it was a race to celebrate for AG2R-La Mondiale as he crossed the line in fifth, enjoying a small victory by beating Mark Cavendish to the line.
"It's been a great day for us! Following up on Benoît's victory, I managed to beat renowned sprinters like Cavendish and Bouhanni in the pack sprint, and I am really happy. I have been working with my coach Mickaël Bouget specifically on our sprinting and getting the train to work together seamlessly," Barbier said. "I am pleased and especially happy with Quentin (Jaurégui) and Julien (Duval) who were still with me with 300 meters to go. All that I had to do was unleash my sprint.
For the 2017 season, Ag2R-La Mondiale has now claimed 14 victories, up on 2016 results, and 24-year-old Barbier is hoping to add to that tally before the season comes to a close next month.
"I have felt now for several days that the form is really there, and I want to take a win before the end of the season," he said. "I still have four opportunities (Eurométropole - Binche-Chimay-Binche - Paris-Bourges - Paris-Tours), and I hope to seize my chance."