By Anthony Tan
With Ag2r-Prevoyance unable to compete in the bidding war against teams like Discovery Channel, T-Mobile and Liberty Seguros when it comes to recruiting new blood, combined with the perennial lack of results from French riders, Australian neo-pro Simon Gerrans is likely to get more chances to shine after his performance at this year's Tour de France.
Vincent Lavenu's team, along with Crédit Agricole, was said to be in the running for the Alexandre Vinokourov's signature in 2006. But in the end, it came down to a question of money - which both teams don't have a lot of - and the overall capabilities of a team that could support the Kazahkstani in his bid to win the Tour de France.
"I've had the guarantee I will be able to fully focus on the Tour de France," said Vinokourov of his move to Liberty Seguros for the next three seasons. "I chose the team with the best arguments. It's the most organised and the most experienced team. They have the best riders in the mountains and are among the best in the team time trials. It was a natural choice."
For Ag2r, some consolation was the recent signing of Christophe Moreau, the best-placed Frenchman at this year's Tour in 11th place overall, but still, Vino was an opportunity lost. But what can you do with a budget of four million Euros a year?
One thing is to rely more heavily on promising foreigners like Simon Gerrans, Mark Scanlon, Yuriy Krivtsov and Tomas Vaitkus. On the Tour's seventeenth stage from Pau to Revel, which came after a difficult final day in the Pyrenées, Gerrans proved to be one of the four strongest riders in what was originally a 17-man breakaway, and eventually finished third to winner Paolo Savoldelli, this year's Giro d'Italia champion.
"I thought it could be a good stage for me, so I just played my cards," said the 25 year-old Gerrans. "Tried to make the early break and look after myself in that group until the attacks starting going with about 40k to go, and managed to get into the front group and once again look after myself on that last climb. Unfortunately, I had nothing left in that last kilometre."
Said his proud mentor Phil Anderson, still Australia's best Tour de France rider and who hails from the same area of Victoria as his protégé: "Simon just blew me away. The hairs on the back on my neck were standing up and it was just like I was there with him! You could see he was really stuffed, but geez, just to get a placing like that, just to finish in that front of the field was great.
"I still remember Simon when he was still in nappies," chuckled Anderson. "My wife and I spent quite a bit of time with Simon and his family back in the high country, back in Victoria. It's just awesome to see a young, snotty-nosed kid from Goughs Bay be up there and be at the top of world cycling."
However, with the divide between Professional Continental and ProTour teams ever-widening, Lavenu will need to find more money or Gerrans a new team to realise his full potential in years to come.