The AG2R La Mondiale service course is ordinarily a hive of activity, Cyclingnews is assured, as we pitch up to a sleepy building in an industrial estate in La Motte Servolex, on the cusp of the French Alps.
It's a small complex for a WorldTour team and normally people are brushing past each other in the narrow, semi-circular corridors, but today the Critérium du Dauphiné is in town, and most of the staff have made the five-kilometre journey to the finish line, where the team's talisman Romain Bardet is hoping to kick his season into life.
As a result, we're offered a range of delicacies from veteran rider Samuel Dumoulin's patisserie business, and given free rein of the service course, the hub of any cycling team.
The entrance to the building bears the words 'France Cyclisme', which is the name of the holding company of the team, and, once past the small reception area, the corridor splits left and right, each curving round. The front half of the circle is office rooms and store cupboards. The back half is the warehouse.
The walls are lined with team photos from each year since the team's inception all the way back in 1992, when the team was known as Chazal and wore a garish pink and yellow kit. Vincent Lavenu, who founded the team, is still at the helm, and his office is at the end of the left-hand wing, though the offices here are nothing fancy - dull rooms livened up by the odd flash of memorabilia.
Sitting in the middle is the kit room, where a mind-bending quantity of jerseys, shorts, socks, warmers, casquettes, and all the rest are piled high on the shelves and in boxes.
Round the back is where the bikes are kept, with Factor O2 and Slick TT models all hanging on the walls, along with a row of wheels. At one end is a hangar full of components, and at the other a small workstation where the mechanics prepare the bikes for races. After switching to Factor in the winter, the team still has plenty of its old Focus bikes, which are steadily being sold off. In keeping with cycling teams' rigid marketing protocols, no photos of the old bikes are permitted.
The marketing staff become more anxious still when we reach the nutrition cage in the garage at the very back of the building. Energy bars, protein powders, and endless bags of pasta are all lined up on the shelves, and it's a veritable memory test for them to recall which brands are official partners and which should only be referred to with a whisper. Alongside all the confected products designed to be quickly digested on the bike sits a product that might be found in your average household cupboard: Bonne Maman jam. No AG2R hotel breakfast table is complete without it.
We are also proudly shown the team's supply of micronutrients, small tubs of tablets containing vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Romain Bardet works one-on-one with a micronutrition specialist, and this is just one area where the ambitious Frenchman's ideas have filtered down to the rest of the team, dragging them from the old-school and into modernity.
The garage houses a few motorbikes and both team buses, though when we visit, one is at the finish line at the Dauphiné and the other making its way to Switzerland for the Tour de Suisse. The team also has three trucks and two motorhomes for smaller races. Alongside the huge boxes of bidons – the team goes through over 25,000 every year – is a row of pigeon holes for the riders, who each have an individual kit bag that they'll take to races.
The whole set-up has grown since Bardet rose to prominence, yet there are no special plans in the works - no special paintjob or anything - ahead of the Tour de France after his breakthrough second place last year, which catapulted him into public stardom. Bardet is, somewhat paradoxically, image conscious but wary of drawing attention to himself. He knows he set the bar high last year and piqued the expectations of a nation who have waited 32 years now for a home winner of the Tour, and would like to unassumingly get on with his business.
Bardet comes across the line in La Motte-Servolex in seventh place, 50 seconds behind the front group. It's not the home victory that had been hoped for, but the AG2R camp will have another bite of the apple, and another day out, in a month's time when the Tour de France rolls into town, with stage 9 tracing much of the same route and finishing slightly further down the road in Chambéry.
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