By Jean-François Quénet/velomania.net
The French amateur season has started with a strong impact made by young Australians who have chosen to follow the path of Mark Renshaw and Simon Gerrans, recently signed by Française des Jeux and Ag2r after riding for SCO Dijon and U Nantes-Atlantique respectively.
On the west side of the country, Victorian Joel Pearson, 21, has won two races of the Circuit des Plages vendéennes, a series of eight events alongside the Atlantic coast. Known as a good crit rider, he showed his sprinting abilities and his fighting spirit in the early moves. "I'm more than happy with the way things are going with my new club," he said. Pearson rides for Côtes d'Armor-Maître Jacques in Brittany, the hot bed of French cycling, under the guidance of Jean-François Rault who is a former team-mate of Bernard Hinault and the last ever winner of the 500+ km long Bordeaux-Paris classic in 1988.
But the Aussie bunch is actually led by Ben Johnson on the east side of the country. The 21 year old Queenslander from Noosa won the GP of Antibes on the Côte d'Azur one week ago and repeated his success on Sunday at the Prix Mathias Nomblot near Lyon. Although a few races were cancelled, that one was only a little bit shortened but the snow and the negative temperatures (-4°C!) didn't prevent "Benny" from putting a 3 minutes into his rivals. "It was a very impressive ride," former Festina and Jean Delatour directeur sportif Michel Gros said. After two years with SCO Dijon, Johnson has joined second division club Charvieu-Chavagneux IC where he has found a very supportive atmosphere. On the finish line he was approached by RAGT team manager Serge Barle. He's not only a former stagiaire with Cofidis - winning the 2003 Paris-Corrèze as a helper for Cédric Vasseur - but a real pro in the making.
An interesting future is also predicted to a few other young Aussies who have chosen France as their path to the pro ranks. Matthew Lloyd from St Kilda CC has also discovered French races last Sunday, finishing 12th in the Prix Pierre-Pinel. The 20 year old Victorian was the surprise winner of the Mt Baw Baw stage of the 2004 Herald Sun Tour and the overall winner of the Tour of Wellington earlier this year. He'll be joined at Tarbes-Pyrénées-Cyclisme (Pyrénées? Not a bad choice for a climber...) by Tasmanian Joshua Wilson whose father Michael was one of the Australian pioneers in cycling 20 years ago.
Otherwise, Bernard Sulzberger and Dane Cheers ride for CA Mantes-la-Ville near Paris, David Tanner has joined the prestigious VC Roubaix, Kieran Cameron will again be lined up by SCO Dijon in two weeks, and national individual pursuit champion Mark Jamieson will be the man to watch at VC Evreux from April onwards after riding the track world's in Los Angeles.