Vincent Lavenu’s French team were set up in 1992 and have raced as Chazal and Casino – in some wonderfully colourful kits – but they’ve been known for the last two decades as AG2R. From 2021, it’ll be AG2R Citroën, as the French car manufacturer comes on board to bolster the team’s budget. It comes at a time of significant change, with leaders Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour moving on, and the likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels coming in.
Manager: Vincent Lavenu
Squad size: 30
Average age: 27.6
How did they fare in 2020?
WorldTour ranking: 15
It wasn’t a terrible season, considering the pandemic, although the new funds will come with expectations beyond the bottom quarter of the WorldTour rankings.
Bardet was looking good at the Tour de France until he crashed out with concussion, so that was a shame, but the team’s race was already saved by Nans Peters’ stage win in the Pyrenees. Dorian Godon landed Paris-Camembert but it was Benoît Cosnefroy who was the chief breadwinner, picking up the GP Marseilliase, Étoile de Bessèges, and a stage of the Route d’Occitannie.
He’d vowed to make an impact not just on the French circuit but on the WorldTour, and while he didn’t win such a race, he did do that with second at Flèche Wallonne, third behind Alaphilippe and Van der Poel at Brabantse Pijl, and second at Paris-Tours.
Cosnefroy largely carried the team, as Latour had another disappointing season – partly due to injury – and Oliver Naesen did what he has done for a couple of years now – finish seventh at the big classics but leaving the impression he was capable of better.
Benoît Cosnefroy: With Bardet and Pierre Latour leaving, the 25-year-old puncheur becomes a central figure of the team. He has shown he can win on the French circuit and now appears to be on the cusp of a major victory. His aggressive, instinctive style makes him a good fit in the Alaphilippe-Van der Poel era.
Oliver Naesen: The Belgian has been the team’s Classics leader since 2016, which is around the time they started caring about the Classics. Now his role changes and he shares leadership with his old pal Van Avermaet and Jungels. He has racked up the top 10s in the major cobbled races but always with a hint of regret. The tactical flexibility offered by the new arrivals may well be the missing piece of the jigsaw.
Greg Van Avermaet: The Olympic champion hasn’t won a spring classic since his all-conquering 2017 campaign, but he is still a consistent contender. Like Naesen, he has perhaps found himself limited by team circumstances in the last couple of years. The 35-year-old also offers quality over a wide range of terrain, whether it’s the Canadian one-days or rolling stage races like Yorkshire and Luxembourg.
Bob Jungels: Jungels should slot in alongside Naesen and Van Avermaet during the spring, his debut on the cobbles in 2019 showing just how effective he can be. However, he also boasts Grand Tour top 10s to his name, and it’ll be interesting to see how AG2R choose to use him, with their stage racing unit now very thin on the ground. The risk with all-rounders is spreading their talents too wide and too thin, and that’s something Jungels – also a former Liège-Bastogne-Liège champion – appeared to struggle with this year.
With the arrivals of Van Avermaet and Jungels – not to mention Lilian Calmejane, Stan Dewulf, Gijs Van Hoecke, and Damien Touzé – the Classics core that has been developing modestly around Oliver Naesen in the past few years has just taken on Deceuninck-QuickStep proportions. Cosnefroy is also set to contend in the Ardennes, so they’ll be heavily talked about throughout the spring.
The massive investment in the Classics does leave the team looking a little one-dimensional, at least when it comes to WorldTour racing. With Bardet and Pierre Latour both leaving, there’s a huge hole in the team’s stage racing department that hasn’t really been filled.
Clément Champoussin is being lined up as the team’s next Grand Tour leader, and his breakthrough may not be far away, while Bob Jungels can obviously ride GC but has perhaps struggled to marry that with the Classics. Jaako Hänninen is another promising young climber but in the short term it’s hard to see them competing for a Grand Tour or WorldTour stage race.
It’s a year of huge change for the French team, as Citroën arrive as title sponsor to bolster the budget significantly. Bardet’s departure signals the end of an era as he came through the team’s development set up and the team was effectively built around him in the last five years. The same, to a lesser extent is true of Latour.
There’s going to be a more international feel about the team and they’re not just dipping their toes in the Classics with one rider but going all-in with several. A major spring victory is the bar for success now.
General classification stage racing looks set to take a back seat for the time being, while the team still don’t have a top-level sprinter but should pick up a few more wins on French soil thanks to the signing of Marc Sarreau from Groupama-FDJ.
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