2021 Team Preview: Cofidis
Martin provides the hope, Viviani seeks redemption
Cofidis entered the professional peloton in 1997 but while the sponsor has remained remarkably loyal for almost a quarter of a century, that stability has hardly been reflected in the team, which has undergone repeated reboots since founding manager Cyrille Guimard was removed at the end of that inaugural season and replaced by Alain Bondue.
The most recent rebuilding project began in 2018, when former rider Cedric Vasseur took over the reins from Yvon Sanquer, though some familiar issues remain, most notably the squad’s failure to claim tangible success at the Tour de France. Cofidis have been a participant in every year of their existence, but they haven’t won a stage since Sylvain Chavanel triumphed in Montluçon in 2008. Ending that drought has been a stated ambition ever since. Cofidis have spent most of that period at Pro Continental level but returned to the WorldTour in 2020 after a decade-long hiatus.
Manager: Cedric Vasseur
Squad size: 29
Average age: 29.4
How did they fare in 2020?
World ranking: 19th
Cofidis began 2020 filled with optimism, having been promoted to the WorldTour, and they outlined their new ambitions by prising Elia Viviani away from Deceuninck-QuickStep and building a dedicated sprint train around him. The Italian failed to land a single victory in a calamitous 2020 season, however, and he made little impression in the sprints at either the Tour de France or Giro d’Italia.
Viviani’s travails were only accentuated by the squad’s dearth of results elsewhere. Cofidis picked up just two wins in 2020 – Attilio Viviani won a stage of La Tropicale Amissa Bongo in January, while Anthony Perez added a stage of the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var – and they didn’t manage any at all after the season resumed in August. In mitigation, they weren’t the only outfit to struggle with the revised and condensed calendar, which was dominated by a handful of teams, and there is enough talent – Nathan Haas, Jesús Herrada, Simone Consonni – to expect better in the coming year.
Guillaume Martin provided almost all the year’s highpoints for Cofidis, as he lived up to his marquee status after arriving from Wanty-Groupe Gobert. The Frenchman was already aggressive on his debut at the Vuelta a San Juan in January and he continued in the same manner when the season began again in August, with third place at an intense Critérium du Dauphiné and the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge.
Martin impressed at the Tour, too, where he sprinted to third at Orcières-Merlette and stood third overall after the Pyrenees. He was hampered by a crash in the second week, however, and he would reach Paris in 11th place overall. He recovered to play a key role in Julian Alaphilippe’s Worlds win and then placed 14th overall at the Vuelta, while maintaining a Cofidis tradition by landing the king of the mountains jersey.
Guillaume Martin: The Norman drew plenty of attention for his degree in philosophy and his talent as a writer during his tenure at Wanty-Groupe Gobert, but 2020 was the year that the world belatedly took closer note of the full array of his talents as a rider. His efforts at the Tour, in particular, deserved a greater prize than 11th in Paris, but there is every reason to believe he can improve substantially on that placing in the year ahead, even if he has suggested his primary target will be a stage win.
Elia Viviani: A veteran of Liquigas, Sky and QuickStep, Viviani has claimed stage victories at all three Grand Tours, an Olympic gold medal and European road title, but winning in Cofidis colours has somehow proved beyond him. That will surely change in 2021, even if the pressure will continue to ratchet upwards until he finally opens his account. Viviani might benefit from the distraction of falling in with the Italian track squad as he builds towards the Tokyo Olympics.
Jesús Herrada: The 30-year-old was Cofidis’ outstanding performer in 2019 and while he didn’t repeat the same highs last season, he still delivered some solid displays, including second place at Mont Aigoual on stage 6 of the Tour.
At 27, Martin is only reaching his prime and his fearless racing style will continue to serve him well. "I don’t have any problem with expectations," he said after Cofidis’ online team presentation on Friday. His consistency in 2020 saw him rise to 18th in the world rankings (Cofidis’ only other rider in the top 100 is new signing Simon Geschke), and he will likely account for a sizeable haul of their points in 2021.
Despite Viviani’s travails, Cofidis have at least laid the groundwork of a reasonable sprint train around him, and they have added another element for 2021 in Jempy Drucker. It remains to be see, however, if Viviani can rediscover his previous form. Elsewhere, there is a solid spine of riders in the form of men like Herrada, Geschke, Haas, Nicolas Edet and Natnael Berhane, even if the collective didn’t add up to the sum of those parts last season.
The lack of a plan B, which was most notable at the Giro, where Viviani was obviously struggling but where Cofidis’ entire strategy still seemed built around piloting him to bunch sprints that he was clearly unable to win. While the team suggested it was, symbolically at least, the first race of 2020, it hardly did much for anyone’s morale, least of all Viviani’s.
On the same note, Cofidis would surely benefit from allowing Christophe Laporte some more latitude in 2021 rather than deploying him as part of Viviani’s train. Although not a WorldTour-calibre sprinter, he is well capable of picking up wins elsewhere. After 2020’s meagre pickings, Cofidis are in dire need of them.
Martin apart, Cofidis don’t appear well equipped to make an impact in the GC of stage races, though the gaps in their cobbled Classics squad are more glaring considering the team hails from the Franco-Belgian border. 2015 Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Jelle Wallays is the major addition in that department this year.
Considering the current trend for youth in professional cycling, the age profile at Cofidis must also be something of a concern. Only one rider in the roster – 21-year-old neo-professional Thomas Champion – was born after the team’s founding year of 1997. For too long, the best young talent in French cycling has been going elsewhere.
Martin’s ability and attitude provide grounds for optimism, but one senses that Cofidis will need some early victories to raise morale across the board. As in 2020, much will depend on Viviani’s state of form. If he can start winning, their season will take on a different complexion. Otherwise, it could be a long year. That elusive Tour stage win, of course, would make the season a success for team and sponsor alike
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.