Marc Madiot’s team has been a constant in the peloton since 1997, with Groupama joining the French state lottery FDJ as title sponsor in 2018. Thibaut Pinot has been the team’s marquee name for the past decade, his talent matched only by the tribulations that have befallen him at the Tour de France. Arnaud Démare enjoyed an outstanding 2020 campaign and David Gaudu continued his development with a fine Vuelta a España, while Stefan Küng again proved himself to be among the world’s best time triallists.
Manager: Marc Madiot
Squad size: 30
Average age: 28.2
How did they fare in 2020?
WorldTour ranking: 9th
Groupama-FDJ had started the season rather slowly before the pandemic-enforced hiatus, but Arnaud Démare’s sparkling post-lockdown form yielded some 14 victories. Under the tutelage of coach Julien Pinot, the Frenchman enjoyed his finest season to date, where the only off-note was his silver medal in the European Championships in Plouay.
Démare’s eye-catching haul helped to offset disappointments elsewhere. The Tour de France, of course, has always been Groupama-FDJ’s raison d’être, and it was a disappointing edition for Madiot’s squad, as both Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu’s races were irretrievably compromised by their crashes on the opening day. Built squarely around Pinot’s overall bid, the squad was reduced to bit-part players once his GC challenge ended in the Pyrenees. Pinot had previously had to settle for a frustrated second overall at the end of a short and sharp edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The season ended on a better note, however, as Gaudu bounced back to claim two mountain stages at the Vuelta a España, as well as eighth place overall, while Küng was European time trial champion and a bronze medallist in the event at the Worlds.
Thibaut Pinot: The Mélisey native has won Il Lombardia, Milano-Torino, stages in all Grand Tours and a French time trial title but his career seems to be defined by his troubled relationship with the Tour de France. His 2020 Tour was ruined by a crash on the opening day and though he finished the race, the ensuing back pain forced him out of the Vuelta a España after just two stages.
Arnaud Démare: Few riders emerged from lockdown in better shape than Démare, who notched up 14 victories between August and October, including four assured sprint wins at the Giro d’Italia. A year previously, he had frittered away the maglia ciclamino with a rush of blood to the head on the last flat stage to Santa Maria di Sala. This time out, his superiority and that of his now well-oiled lead out train, brooked no argument. A return to the Tour looks likely in 2021, while the French champion will surely have designs on Milan-San Remo and other sprints early in the year.
David Gaudu: Like his leader Pinot, the Breton endured a trying 2020 Tour, crashing heavily on the opening day and abandoning in the final week. The 24-year-old recovered in time to start the Vuelta a España, where he climbed to stage wins at La Farrapona and La Covatilla, while helping himself to eighth overall. Still only 24, the 2016 Tour de l’Avenir winner has developed consistently during his career to this point, and he has the potential to make another significant stride forward in 2021.
Stefan Küng: Adaptable and reliable, Küng is a key rider at Groupama-FDJ. The Swiss rider is one of the peloton’s outstanding time trialists, as testified by his European title and his bronze medal at the Worlds, but he also doubles as a most useful domestique in the Grand Tours. He will also lead the line with Démare in the cobbled Classics, where he has yet to unleash his full potential. fifth place at Gent-Wevelgem hinted at his capabilities.
Few squads have quite the same stability as Groupama-FDJ. A decade ago, they suffered the indignity of relegation from the WorldTour, but after regaining their place in the top flight twelve months later, the team developed and strengthened in synch with the emergence of the young Pinot.
The long-term ambition was to win the Tour with Pinot. It remains to be seen if that will happen. On the one hand, his luck is surely due to turn. On the other, at 30, he is running out of chances for the stars to align. No matter, as well as providing cycling’s most compelling narrative in recent times, Pinot is one of the sport’s finest talents and, for all the focus on his bad fortune, it’s worth noting that he has repeatedly bounced back from his litany of Grand Tour disappointments. His programme for 2021 has yet to be announced, but he will be back vying for overall victory in a three-week race. In short, Pinot remains the team’s focal point.
On the evidence of last Autumn, meanwhile, Démare offers something of an insurance policy should Pinot struggle, and it would be a surprise if the French champion doesn’t return to the Tour in 2021. His finishing was rapier sharp at the Giro d’Italia, and he can also rely one of the best lead-out trains in the peloton. Jacopo Guarnieri, in particular, is of invaluable assistance.
Gaudu’s steady progress means that Pinot’s burden could be lightened still further in 2021, while the progress of Valentin Madouas is worth following closely.
For several years, Groupama-FDJ were over-reliant on Pinot, an issue now offset by the emergence of a younger generation. Despite Madiot’s predilection for Paris-Roubaix, however, the cobbled Classics remain a relative weakness. Démare has a couple of podium placings at Gent-Wevelgem and a sixth place in Roubaix to his name, but he has never offered guarantees on the pavé.
He missed the Belgian Classics in 2020 as he was on Giro duty, of course, and it will be fascinating to see if he can translate his stunning sprint form of last Autumn into tangible improvement on the cobbles this Spring. Küng has never added up to the sum of his parts in the Classics yet either, but he showed signs of progress last year.
It’s a largely unchanged Groupama-FDJ team for 2021, with just two new signings, Attila Valter (CCC) and Matteo Badilatti (Israel Start-Up Nation). The success or failure of their season will thus hinge on familiar names.
Pinot suggested his latest Tour setback could mark a turning point in his career, but he may have recalibrated sufficiently for another tilt at the windmill this summer. As ever, it will make for fascinating viewing.
Démare should weigh in with a share of victories, though he will facer a deeper sprint field at the Tour.
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