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2022 Team Preview: Groupama-FDJ

Thibaut Pinot continues as a leader for Team Groupama-FDJ
Thibaut Pinot continues as a leader for Team Groupama-FDJ (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Who?

Manager: Marc Madiot

Squad size: 28

Average age: 28.6

Marc Madiot’s team entered the peloton in 1997 with the backing of the French national lottery, with Groupama joining as title sponsor ahead of the 2018 season. A little over a decade ago, FDJ suffered the indignity of relegation from the WorldTour, but they immediately re-established themselves in the top flight, the team’s ambitions developing in tandem with those of the emerging Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman has been the team’s point of reference throughout his career, and that remains the case even after two injury-plagued seasons. Elsewhere, Arnaud Démare carries considerable responsibility to chalk up victories, Stefan Küng is firmly among the world’s best time triallists, and David Gaudu is entering his prime, while the roster contains several emerging talents.

How did they fare in 2021?

Wins: 22

World Ranking: 9th

Pinot’s injury travails undoubtedly conditioned Groupama-FDJ’s season. He was supposed to lead at the Giro d’Italia, but his longstanding back injury forced him to miss both that race and the Tour de France. In his absence, Attila Valter held the maglia rosa for three days at the Giro, but the Tour was a disappointment, David Gaudu’s strong displays in the Pyrenees and 11th place overall notwithstanding. Arnaud Démare, finally handed the chance to race with a full lead-out train, failed to win a stage and finished outside the time limit in the Alps on stage 9.

Yet even though Démare fell well short of his sparkling 2020 campaign, he still weighed in with more wins than anyone else, picking up eight, including a morale-boosting triumph at Paris-Tours in October. European time trial champion Stefan Küng missed out on Olympic bronze by four-tenths of a second, but the Swiss rider was consistent across the year, and his Tour de Suisse stage victory was one of just two WorldTours wins scored by the team all season.

The other came courtesy of Gaudu on the final stage of Itzulia Basque Country, and in a very consistent campaign, he was also third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and finished in the top 10 at the Olympic road race, Il Lombardia, Flèche Wallonne and Milano-Torino. Other bright moments were provided by neo-professional Jake Stewart, who took second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but some more established names struggled to make the expected impact at WorldTour level. Directeur sportif Yvon Madiot didn’t sugarcoat his debrief at season’s end. “I don’t think we deserve more than 6/10,” he said. “Something is missing: the victory or the result we remember. Whether it be on the Tour, on the Classics…”

MONFORTE DE LEMOS SPAIN SEPTEMBER 03 Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama FDJ competes during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 19 a 1912 km stage from Tapia to Monforte de Lemos lavuelta LaVuelta21 on September 03 2021 in Monforte de Lemos Spain Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Arnaud Demare of Team Groupama-FDJ competes during the 2021 Tour of Spain (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Key riders

Thibaut Pinot: To focus on Pinot’s vulnerability is to do him a disservice. The Mélisey native has shown remarkable resilience to bounce back from some extreme disappointments during his career, and he has the palmarès (stage wins in all three Grand Tours, a podium finish at the Tour, victory at Il Lombardia) to show it. After two injury-hit seasons, however, Pinot’s prospects are uncertain. And even if he regains the form that carried him so close to overall victory at the 2019 Tour, there is a nagging sense that the goalposts have shifted in the intervening period due to the emergence of Tadej Pogačar. No matter, Pinot always makes for compelling viewing. 

Arnaud Démare: In the pandemic-condensed 2020 season, Démare hit the form of his life, powering to four emphatic stage wins at the Giro, but he struggled to replicate those results last season, at least at WorldTour level. His late win at Paris-Tours couldn’t have been more timely, and it will have sustained the 2016 Milan-San Remo winner through the winter. He also performed the sport some service by echoing Pinot and querying the discrepancy between the UCI’s rules and the additional, voluntary measures followed by MPCC teams. “I am part of a team that has made commitments, as have others,” he said in November. “But the whole peloton is not like us.”

Stefan Küng: Now in his fourth season at Groupama-FDJ, Küng has proven an excellent signing, serving as a time trial specialist, a mainstay of the Classics squad, and, when required, a bodyguard to GC leaders at the Grand Tours. After the despair of losing out on Olympic bronze by fractions of a second, he bounced back to win the European time trial title. In 2022, he will look to start delivering on his potential on the cobbles. “I think these are the races where I have the widest room for improvement,” he said.

David Gaudu: Winner of two stages at the 2020 Vuelta, where he finished 8th overall, Gaudu showcased his ability in one-day races in 2021, most notably with his third-place finish at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It remains to be seen if Gaudu can eventually challenge for overall honours at the Grand Tours or if stage wins in the mountains will remain the summit of his ambition.

Strengths

Despite a 6/10-rated season, there has been little sign of panic from Groupama-FDJ management, who have made a virtue of stability over the years. Michael Storer is the highest-profile of the four new arrivals, as the team continues to place trust in Pinot and Démare to return to something approaching their best. It’s a strategy that has been rewarded in the past, though it remains to be seen if will prove as effective with both leading men now in their 30s and cycling increasingly giving the impression of being a younger man’s game.

If Pinot can reach something like his 2019 form then anything is possible, particularly if he gets the green light to return to his beloved Giro, while Démare can again rely on one of the best sprint trains in the peloton, with Jacopo Guarnieri a mainstay. Küng offers guarantees against the watch and Gaudu is an obvious leader in the Ardennes and beyond. Jake Stewart’s progress will also be worth following.

 

Weaknesses

Gaudu’s efforts notwithstanding, Groupama-FDJ still look overly reliant on Pinot to perform in stage races. His supporting cast rises to the challenge when he is there to lead but appears to struggle in his absence. The cobbled Classics remain a longstanding weakness, with neither Démare nor Küng yet delivering on their considerable potential on that terrain. Jake Stewart’s emergence could yet change that, but the Briton is still only 22 years old and building experience.

Verdict

There is enough quality in the roster for Groupama-FDJ to repeat 2021’s haul of wins and remain in the top 10 of the UCI rankings, and there is some interesting young talent on board, but the success of their 2022 campaign will hinge on whether Pinot, Démare and Gaudu can scale the heights.     

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