Thibaut Pinot, Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare are among a dozen elite French riders who are attending an off-season training camp this week in the Alpine resort of Valloire. What is effectively a three-day bonding session has been organised by national road team selector Bernard Bourreau with the aim of creating more of a rapport between riders likely to be selected for upcoming World Championships and 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 12 riders will spend this mini camp cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing and walking on the slopes of the Galibier pass, which stands high above Valloire. "I want to encourage contact between them, to create some common memories for them," Bourreau told Le Dauphiné.
Bourreau hopes that understanding and knowing each other better will engender greater cooperation at major championships on the road over the next two seasons.
"Since I've become national selector, I've noticed that interaction between the riders is rare," explained Bourreau. "They don't even talk to each other in the peloton any more."
"I wanted to create links, to allow interaction. We needed some form of cohesive activity, and for that we needed to be able to get together, ideally away from bike races. I'm afraid that the complicity that was established between them when they were youngsters has been lost due to the demands and rivalries of the professional world."
In this instance, the sometimes fierce rivalry between FDJ sprinters Démare and Bouhanni is the most evident. Both riders are likely to feature significantly in French colours in 2015 and 2016, when the courses for the Worlds should favour sprinters.
The French coach admits it has been a struggle to get teams to agree to release their riders, but says the riders themselves have got right behind the proposal. Of those invited, only Romain Bardet and Tony Gallopin have not been able to attend, Bardet because he is currently carrying out wind-tunnel testing in the UK and Gallopin because he's in between training camps with his Lotto-Soudal team.
The dozen riders attending the camp are generally part of the emerging generation of French talent, but Bourreau says that the absence of older riders such as Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler is not significant.
"This is not discrimination towards the 30-somethings," said Bourreau. "But this is the hard core of youngsters whom I am expecting to depend on."
Attending the camp are Julian Alaphilippe (Omega-Quick Step), Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano), Nacer Bouhanni, Arnaud Démare, Thibaut Pinot, Arthur Vichot (FDJ. fr), Jérôme Coppel, Julien Simon (Cofidis), Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Séché), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), and Blel Kadri and Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R La Mondiale).