- Manager: Vincent Lavenu
- Squad size: 29
- Average age: 26.8
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.
2021 marked a big turning point, as Citroën arrived as title sponsor and the likes of Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels arrived as riders on a revamped roster. Classics became a priority but the team have not let go of their stage racing roots.
How did they fare in 2021?
World ranking: 8th
The team will look back on 2021 with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Ben O’Connor’s stage win and fourth-place finish at the Tour de France was a huge success, while Andrea Vendrame and Clement Champoussin made it a Grand Tour sweep with stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, respectively. Benoit Cosnefroy also landed his first WorldTour win at the Bretagne Classic as the team notched a respectable 12 wins.
This would all have been perfectly satisfactory in any normal season in the team’s recent history, but 2021 was meant to signal a new dawn. A fresh sponsorship injection from Citroën had taken them from the lower ranks of the WorldTour budget scale into the mid-table, and rare high-profile signings like Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels stated new intent. However, Jungels’ campaign was a write-off due to health issues, while Van Avermaet similarly struggled to produce his best form and was a shadow of himself in the second part of the year.
The pair were supposed to be part of a new Classics-oriented approach, following the departures of Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour, but the spring was fairly flat. Van Avermaet and Lawrence Naesen both made the final group at E3 but failed to stop Kasper Asgreen slipping away, leading to recriminations on the team bus and from fans on social media. Van Avermaet did go on to finish on the podium at the Tour of Flanders but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that happened. In the Ardennes, meanwhile, injury issues meant Jungels and Cosnefroy couldn’t have the impact they’re capable of.
In a sense, O’Connor, picked up late last year on a one-year deal, rescued the team’s season in July. He certainly provided the highlight, in any case.
In for 2022: Clement Berthet (neo-pro), Paul Lapeira (neo-pro), Antoine Raugel (neo-pro), Valentin Paret-Peintre (neo-pro), Felix Gall (Team DSM)
Out for 2022: Mathis Frank (retires), Ben Gastauer (retires), Tony Gallopin (Trek-Segafredo), Francois Bidard (Cofidis), Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels)
Ben O’Connor: The Australian was one of the best stories of the 2021 season. Having thought about quitting the sport at the end of 2019, and having found himself short of options at the end of 2020, he has reignited his career at AG2R. He was signed on a one-year lifeline and faced the uphill task of fitting in at an overwhelmingly French team, but now finds himself with three more years on his contract and as one of the team’s central figures.
The magical Tour de France - where he won the mountain stage to Tignes and went on to finish fourth overall - only tells part of the story. O’Connor had in fact signed his new long-term deal in June - proof of how quickly the relationship developed. O’Connor will lead the line at the Tour de France and the aim will be to back up what he did this year, along with maintaining the sense of consistency and progression that were lacking in the early years of his career. It’ll be difficult to replicate the circumstances of his 2021 Tour, especially slipping into breakaways like the one to Tignes, but there’s a sense that O’Connor still has plenty of potential to unlock.
Benoit Cosnefroy: The French puncheur can live with the best riders in the world on his day. He showed that by beating Julian Alaphilippe - and his teammate Mikel Honore - to win the Bretagne Classic this year. It was his first WorldTour level win and the biggest moment of his career so far, and came during a late-season run that also saw him finish third at the European Championships before playing a key role in Alaphilippe’s second world title.
The first half of the year, by contrast, was a write-off as a knee injury delayed his start and laid waste to his spring. Even when not fully fit, he can pick up lower-level wins on French soil - as shown at the Tour du Finistere this year - but if he can reach top form and near his physical peak now he’s 26, he can compete in the Ardennes and the biggest hilly races.
Bob Jungels: The Luxembourger had a hugely disappointing debut with the team in 2021 but there’s hope for 2022 after he unearthed the reason why he was being dropped before races had even begun to intensify. He was diagnosed with arterial endofibrosis in both legs and underwent surgery in the summer, revealing to Cyclingnews that it had put an end to a tough period of what he described as ‘dark moments’.
“Someone asked me what I would wish for in 2022 and I said ‘I just want to be able to use 100 per cent of my capacity again’,” Jungels told us. If that comes true, he’ll be a force to be reckoned wherever he goes, given the depth and breadth of his talent.
Greg Van Avermaet: The former Olympic champion knows his best years are behind him but insists he can still compete for major honours in the cobbled Classics, with the Tour of Flanders the crucial missing link in his palmares. He’ll need more than just brute strength, which is why his partnership with Oliver Naesen will be so important.
Clement Champoussin: The Frenchman is considered a major prospect and continued his development this year, first racing to an aggressive fourth place in a star-studded Trofeo Laigueglia before a late-season bang in the form of a dramatic first Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta a España. He had to abandon the Giro early on with fatigue, so stage racing consistency will be key in 2022 as we wait to see whether the development squad graduate can become a long-term heir to Bardet.
Although they didn’t hit the mark this year, the team still have a strong Classics group, covering the cobbles and Ardennes. On top form, Van Avermaet and Naesen can still do big things, even if they’ll need to play the numbers game to think about getting the better of the likes of Wout Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel, and Kasper Asgreen. Stan Dewulf could also have a bigger impact after a strong end to the year. In the Ardennes, meanwhile, Cosnefroy and Jungels are both justifiable inclusions in the favourites bracket.
O’Connor will give the team a focus and a shot of more success at the Tour de France, and then it’s just a case of filling in the gaps beyond that key season structure. There are a number of talented riders, such as Nans Peter, Dorion Godon, Andrea Vendrame, who are able to contribute, plus a number of up-and-coming riders who could come of age, Aurelien Paret-Peintre being among them but Champoussin being the most exciting.
The team are lacking a top-level sprinter. Vendrame and Clement Venturini are versatile fast-finishers, while Marc Sarreau has shown potential in the past, but none are a reliable source of victories. The team are also slightly light on the ground in the GC department. Champoussin could step up but is still developing, while O’Connor now shoulders a lot of responsibility but cannot be expected to live with the likes of Tadej Pogačar on the back of one good Tour.
AG2R have the ingredients to make more of 2022 than they did in their first campaign under the Citroën sponsorship. O’Connor has become a key leader for the Tour de France and the team remain well stacked for the cobbles, but it’s the return of Jungels, the progress of Champoussin, and the rise of Cosnefroy that will inspire the most excitement ahead of the new campaign.
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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