Pierre Latour will take the reins of the AG2R La Mondiale team next week at the Tour Down Under and again at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on January 27, despite dealing throughout the winter with back injuries suffered in a crash at the Clásica San Sebastián in August.
Latour was caught up in a high-speed crash during the final 20 kilometres of the 2018 Clásica San Sebastián after a touch of wheels at the front of the bunch caused many more behind to fall.
The 25-year-old Frenchman, who was the best young rider at last year's Tour de France, suffered an undisplaced fracture of his D8 vertebra that kept him out of racing for two months. He returned to racing in October, scoring sixth in the Chrono des Nations, but his back continued to cause him problems throughout the off season.
Nevertheless, Latour said this week in a team press release that he's ready to start the new season.
"In spite of the back problems I had over the winter, I am satisfied with my form," Latour said.
Latour finished 13th overall at the 2018 Tour Down Under after coming in ninth on stage 4 and 12th on the Willunga Hill stage. He is hoping to make a similar start to his 2019 campaign.
"Last year was the first time I took part in this race, and I had a quite successful rest of the season," he said. "It’s an ideal way to start the year."
Joining Latour in their second participations in the race will be Nico Denz, Nans Peters and Clément Chevrier. Gediminas Bagdonas will provide the most TDU experience to the roster, while Hubert Dupont and Benoît Cosnefroy will be making their first appearances in the WorldTour-opener.
"There is always a lot of impatience and excitement when starting a new season," said team manager Vincent Lavenu. "We have a quality team: solid, experienced, with leaders able to excel on many terrains. After weeks of work for the riders and the staff, it's time to get back on the road, and that's a good thing.
"The Santos Tour Down Under is a very beautiful race," Lavenu said. "It’s perfectly organised and we have won it four times. The weather conditions are great, the stages are short and nervous, and you have to be in good shape to shine, especially against the racers from Australia and New Zealand, since they are in the heart of their season.
"We are coming with a good leader in Pierre Latour, even if he has suffered from back problems, and then notably we also have Benoît Cosnefroy," Lavenu said. "Our seven riders are extremely motivated."
AG2R La Mondiale won the Tour Down under previously in 2000 with Gilles Maignan, in 2003 with Mikel Astarloza, in 2006 with Simon Gerrans and in 2007 with Martin Elmiger.
AG2R La Mondiale for Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race: Gediminas Bagdonas, Clement Chevrier, Benoit Cosnefroy, Pierre Latour, Hubert Dupont, Nans Peters, Nico Denz