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2022 team preview: FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope

FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope line up at La Course by Tour de France 2021
FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope line up at La Course by Tour de France 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Who?

  • Manager:  Stephen Delcourt
  • Squad size: 14
  • Average age: 25.9

Heading into a sixth season with the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope name and 17th since formation, the team is ready to embrace a new phase as the Women’s WorldTour calendar evolves to include the Tour de France Femmes. It is a big drawcard for any team, with no shortage of riders clamouring to line up in the race for the prestigious yellow jersey, but for the long-running French team it’s a huge beacon that would be expected to loom large when the season goals are being prioritised. The spotlight and camera crews are bound to be quick to take any opportunity to focus on the nation’s only Women’s WorldTour team at the eight-day race in July, providing a perfect opportunity to shine extra light on the loyal sponsors of the team, which started as Vienne Futuroscope in 2006.

Just as this new phase in women’s cycling ramps up, with more top-level teams and a wave of new high-profile races, so too it appears is the team. If becoming one of the first group of eight WorldTour teams when the new tier was introduced in 2020 wasn’t enough of a statement of intent, the team has been gradually strengthening what has been a relatively stable squad since a big influx of riders in 2019.

That year saw the introduction of young sprint talent Clara Copponi, adding to the future promise already clearly on display with the 2018 signing of climber Evita Muzic, who at the time was just 19. Then as the team joined the new Women’s WorldTour they added Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who already knew how to animate races and chase podiums but is now a rider who is edging her way up the steps at those big events. Further bolstering the ranks in 2021 was Italian rider Marta Cavalli, who may be relatively young but had already shown she has what it takes to consistently deliver results near the front end of the field. The trend of sparing but savvy additions also continued into 2022, with the surprise signing of Grace Brown adding strength for the cobbled classics, time-trial prowess and that winning instinct that saw her take her first and then second Women’s WorldTour victories in 2021. The team also added a second rider, Vittoria Guazzini, the U23 European time trial champion.

Between the development of young talent that’s now ready to blossom, the growing experience and race maturity of riders like Uttrup Ludwig and the recruitment of Brown – who has shown that she has the strength to deliver the wins but still has room for growth – it’s unlikely that this team will get lost in the crowd as the number of Women’s WorldTeams grows to 14 teams in 2022.

How did they fare in 2021?

  • Wins: Two
  • World Ranking: Eight

The team’s 2021 victories started with one that seemed on the cusp for some time as Uttrup Ludwig – who has so often taken to the podium in top-tier races but hadn’t before made it to the top step – secured her first Women’s WorldTour win. It was atop a short finishing climb in Ojo Guareña on the third stage of the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in May when the Dane got to throw her arms into the air in victory. She outsprinted Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx) to the line, before being swamped by her jubilant team in the middle of the post-race interview. 

Next there was a mid-season win at the French Road National Championships from one of the team’s younger riders, Evita Muzic, who may have still been eligible for the U23 category but beat the experienced Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo) to take out the elite national title at the road race.

The two wins, however, were just part of the story with Uttrup Ludwig delivering second place at one of the most high profile races of the year, La Course by Le Tour de France, squeezing by none other than Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) to take second behind Demi Vollering. She also took third at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Durango-Durango. Clara Copponi ended the season on a high note for the team at the fiercely contested Women’s Tour, signalling a real step up for the sprinter. First she made it to her first Women’s WorldTour podium with a third place on stage 1, then came second on the following stage which set her up for third on the overall by the end of the six-stage race.

Even though the Giro d’Italia Donne didn’t start well for the team with Uttrup Ludwig crashing in the opening team trial and ultimately abandoning before the end there were still some positives, with FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope the only team other than the dominant SD Worx that placed more than one rider in the top 12 overall, with Marta Cavalli in sixth and Muzic in 12th place. The French national champion also finished second in the UCI's youth rankings at the end of the season.

Ultimately, 2021 was a solid year of building for the team that launched itself into the top 10 in 2020. Not only did the squad move up two spots in the rankings to eighth but also showed some signs of promise for what could happen if luck plus another year of development and experience start to come together in the season ahead.

Key Riders

OJO GUAREA SPAIN MAY 22 Cecilie Uttrup of Ludwig Denmark and Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope celebrates at arrival during the 6th Vuelta A Burgos Feminas 2021 Stage 3 a 1154km stage from Medina de Pomar to Complejo Krstico de Ojo Guarea 768m VueltaBurgos BurgosFem UCIWWT on May 22 2021 in Ojo Guarea Spain Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Cecilie Uttrup of Ludwig (Image credit: GEtty Images)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig seemed to breathe new life into the team when she arrived in 2020, giving the squad a rider that's often in contention for the podium to get behind. She has continued her build this year, stepping onto the top step of a Women’s WorldTour podium for the first time and making it to second at one of the big events on the calendar, La Course. The Danish rider's seemingly endless enthusiasm lifts her in the big events and it seems only a matter of time now before she pulls off a huge win. Whether it be at Tour de France Femmes, Strade Bianche or perhaps at one of the races where she has already stood on the podium – such as the Tour of Flanders or La Flèche Wallonne Féminine – with her consistent placings near the front of races and strengthening team 2022 could well be the season it all falls into place.

The signing of Grace Brown may have come as a bit of a surprise, as it wasn't exactly predictable that she'd choose to move from a team where she appeared to be thriving, having delivered two Women's WorldTour wins in 2021. However, once the shift was announced it was hard not to see it as a superb fit. The team gets an aggressive, successful rider who seems to fit their preferred modus operandi and Brown gets a team where she has been chosen for, rather than fallen into, a leadership role and has teammates with the skillset and mentality for the rider to bounce off. The Australian, who will be looking for stage wins at the Tour de France Femmes, also brings some added firepower in the time trials which will certainly help in the usual TTT at the Giro d'Italia Donne and in the, somewhat likely, event that one is introduced to the Tour de France Femmes for future editions.

Marta Cavalli may not have delivered any wins this year but it was an impressive season nevertheless, with clear progression as she so often found herself in the top ten, including at some of the biggest races on the calendar from the Olympic Games road race to the first Paris Roubaix Femmes. There was also a Women's WorldTour podium in the stage 2 time trial at the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta as well as fourth overall at the Spanish race plus sixth in the GC at the Giro d'Italia Donne, despite the shaky start and loss of time in the team time trial. There is no doubt Cavalli is shaping up a key rider that in the seasons to come could contribute to the win list and also be part of a powerful Tour contingent that will see the team turning up with multiple cards to play.

Clara Copponi lined up against a field stacked with top sprinters hungry for end of season results at the Women's Tour and the 22 year old looked every bit like she belonged. The French rider – who also spends a considerable amount of time on the track – took third in stage 1, second on stage 2 and donned the leaders jersey before ultimately delivering third overall in the general classification. After ending the season with momentum like that, it is hard not to go into 2022 optimistic about what the young rider could unfurl in the coming year and beyond. 

Evita Muzic may be just 22 but is already heading into her fifth season with the team and has managed to deliver a big win in each of the past two years – first a Giro d'Italia Donne stage in 2020 and then the French road title in 2021. Her climbing prowess and record of solid performances at the Giro d'Italia Donne – where she came 12th overall in 2021 and tenth in 2020 – means she'll also be a valuable asset across the big stage races in July next year, and likely to be watched closely as a potential French yellow jersey contender for the future.

Strengths

GERA GERMANY MAY 26 Marta Cavalli of Italy and Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope leads The Peloton during the 34th Internationale LOTTO Thringen Ladies Tour 2021 Stage 2 a 1251km stage from Gera to Gera ltlt2021 lottothueringenladiestour womencycling on May 26 2021 in Gera Germany Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Marta Cavalli (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope has been gradually adding key riders to its strong base to take its competitiveness up a level as it nurtures the incredibly strong pipeline of developing talent that resides within the team. These strategic additions, rather than wholesale change, means it’ll launch into the season as a squad that knows how to work together, has a powerful combination of riders with some clear targets to keep the motivation high in a post Olympics year. Brown looks to be the perfect complement to Uttrup Ludwig and Cavalli, providing a formidable trio for rival teams to counter, and her signing will also open up options in the cobbled classics. Plus they’ve got a level of depth when it comes to the long mountainous stage races – with Uttrup Ludwig, Muzic and Cavalli all having placed in the top ten of the Giro d’Italia Donne in the past two years – which bodes well for one of the year’s key targets, the Tour de France Femmes. The team also knows how to animate a race, and you know if they don’t clock up the win it will not have been for lack of trying.

Weaknesses

The flip side of that aggressive racing style and enthusiasm to make things happen that makes the team oh so good to watch can sometimes mean riders aren’t at the pointy end when it counts, having used their energy before that all important last dash for the line. However, with a growing maturity and experience level, chances are that they’ll continue to increasingly pick the right moment to take that risk and burn all the matches. That could well end up taking care of the most obvious weakness, and that’s despite the team so often being up there in the top ten or even on the podium, the win list is short. It's hard to be too critical of that though at this point, with a team that’s putting in the work to develop a stream of riders that in the years ahead may well become top step regulars.

Verdict

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope have assembled all the ingredients needed to rise up the ranks of the Women's WorldTour. Now, with the development time that's beginning to turn promise into results and some careful fine-tuning of the team, 2022 looks like it could be the season when it all really starts to fall into place.

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