By Ben Atkins in Pavillon d'Armenonville in Paris' Bois de Boulogne
La Française des Jeux is France's national lottery, and has been sponsoring a top-level cycling team since 1997, and has been supporting sport in France for over thirty years. Because of this link to the lottery, the team is in essence financed by public money, and because of this la Française des Jeux sees itself as the people's team.
The theme for 2008 is "Passion de...," whether it's for winning, supporting or taking part. As well as the cycling team, la Française des Jeux is also heavily involved in its own fan club, which gives rise to its claim to be France's most popular team, in fact many of the club's members had been invited to today's presentation. On top of this engagement with fans of professional cycling, the sponsor is also becoming more and more involved in encouraging the public's participation in cycling: organising Cht'i Ventoux, a ride from Valenciennes in the north to the climb of the great Provençal giant, Mont Ventoux. From 2008, la Française des Jeux will also become one of the main sponsors of France's biggest cyclosportif event, l'Ardechoise, an event that attracts tens of thousands of participants each year.
Proceedings were opened by Christophe Blanchard-Dignac, President-Directeur Général of la Française des Jeux. He spoke at length about the history of the team, the beautiful successes of 2007 – especially the fact that Sandy Casar finally managed a victory at the Tour de France, despite being brought down by a dog wandering on to the course midway through the stage.
La Française des Jeux has the youngest average age of all the ProTour teams, something that makes Blanchard-Dignac very proud. The investment in young riders and their futures means that the average la Française des Jeux rider is just 25 years old. As well as this he is also proud that – as the sponsor is effectively the French public – the 27-strong team roster contains 20 Frenchmen. Important for the French team as 2008 is an Olympic year.
Blanchard-Dignac also spoke at length on the subject of doping, but in a very favourable way: that La Française des Jeux was one of the founding teams of the Movement for a Creditable Cycling (MPCC), five of the team's riders are members of Athletes For Transparency (AFT) and that Sandy Casar was the first person to sign the UCI's anti-doping charter last year. He also emphasised that cycling was by no means the only sport with doping issues. Doping is, he said, endemic in all sports, but cycling is the only one that carries the stigma.
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