In February, FDJ won its first ever team time trial at the La Méditerranéenne and the French squad has proven its debut success wasn't a one-off with third place at Tirreno-Adriatico, nine seconds off the winning time of BMC. FDJ have been steady improvements in the discipline but the Lido di Camaiore performance was well above expectations coach Julien Pinot explained.
"We have already improved during the last 3-4 years," Julien Pinot told VeloPro. "It is true that this year we have made another step. The victory at La Mediterraneenne was already a strong sign. We beat Astana. It was a good reference, but it was not the WorldTour level. Here at Tirreno, looking at the teams on paper, we can really be satisfied. We delivered an almost perfect performance.
"The minimum goal was to be in the top 10. We dreamed a top-five. But the podium is really a great performance. Furthermore we were just behind the last two world champions. It's really a big, big performance."
Fourth at last year's Tirreno-Adriatico, Thibaut Pinot was 38th in last year's Lido di Camaiore prologue but starts the seven-day stage race with an advantage over the majority of his rivals for the overall. The 25-year-old has also made personal improvements against the clock, finishing second (Etoile de Bessèges) and 12th (Volta ao Algarve) in the two time trials he's started this season which his brother further explained.
"It's good for Thibaut. In the last individual time trial Thibaut was also great, compared to his opponents," added Julien Pinot. "Now, even after a team time trial, he is a little ahead of the other favourites. Today, Valverde is almost twenty seconds behind. Nibali is only ten seconds behind, but it is better to be ahead than to be ten or thirty seconds behind as was our case in recent years. He can have much more confidence. And when we take third, we know that the team has the level to be there and support him. It gives a lot of confidence to the group.
"Everything is going good and he wants to do at least as well as he did here last year."
Team manager Marc Madiot added that Pinot asked over the off-season for FDJ to further improve and invest against the clock with the team's new Lapierre Aerostorm DRS time trial bike one such example.
"Everyone knew exactly what he had to do. We tried to do this event at our best," Madiot said. "This winter, Thibaut [Pinot] asked us to form the best possible team for the team time trial. The guys knew that everything started with this event."
The catalyst for the team's improvement against the clock, an important component to the general classification ambitions of its riders such as Pinot, was the 2012 Valkenburg World Championships according to Julien Pinot.
The 2012 Valkenburg World Championships saw the reintroduction of the team time trial event, won by Omega Pharma–Quick-Step, with FDJ finishing 22nd out 32 starters. The team improved to finish 15th in 2013 and has been 11th in the last two Worlds. At the Tour de France since the 2012 Worlds, FDJ have finished 15th on stage 4 of the 2013 Tour and 14th on stage 9 of last year's Tour.
"I think the turning point for the team was the first Worlds in Valkenburg. It was not good at all," he said of FDJ's ride that saw them finish 22nd out of 32 starters and over three minutes down on winners Omega Pharma–Quick-Step.
"Therefore, we wanted to progress in this discipline. In parallel, Thibaut was more interested in overall rankings and some events have a team time trial. It motivated the team and the riders for this discipline they did not necessarily appreciate before. This is the first thing. The second is that we have progressed nicely. We also have good road captains. We already had William Bonnet who knows the team time trials from Crédit Agricole. He brought us a lot of experience, as did Steve Morabito from BMC.
"We work a lot with partners. Everything is perfect. Everything is set up well, both physically, technically and tactically and now also the equipment."