The latest instalment in Cyclingnews' 'Dream Team' run of features sees long-standing AG2R La Mondiale team manager, Vincent Lavenu, select a team of nine from riders he's ridden with or managed. The Frenchman had a short professional career but is better known for creating the AG2R team all the way back in 1992.
- Dream teams must feature nine riders, one of which can be the rider selecting the team, in which case they pick eight riders to join them.
- The riders picked must have all ridden with the person picking the team. That means you can’t just pick the eight or nine best riders of a generation.
Romain Bardet - leader
I'm putting Bardet number one. It's a story in progress, and who knows how his palmares might end up. He’s an incredible talent.
He's a guy we have a peculiar history with because when he was 10 he followed a race in my car. We had a partner from Michelin who was president of his club and asked if could take him in the car. He never said anything, and then the day after he signed his contract he said I've got a story to tell you…'When I was 10 I followed San Sebastian in your car and I told myself that if I turned pro one day it would be with you'.
He is very ambitious. He doesn't make a big thing of it or anything but secretly he has very big ambitions. Above all, he never stops working – always more, always more, always more work. He wants to progress, in his nutrition, sleep, position, micro nutrition…everything. He's always on the hunt for ways to improve. He always has room for more belief – that's his character.
He's 'faux-calme', as we say. He's placid and all that, but in the thick of a race he's nervous like a champion. Like we say in France, un cheval de course. In races he maybe needs to calm himself down slightly.
Jaan Kirsipuu - sprinter
Kirsipuu is a guy who is a huge part of the history of the team. He came in at the end of the first year of the team as a stagiaire, and he won 124 races with me. 124. He's someone who truly grew with the team. He stayed for 12 years – remained loyal. He had other offers at certain moments but he always stayed with us, even if it meant not being paid as much. He had great loyalty.
He was a very 'straight-up' sprinter, very honest. He was well regarded by other sprinters because he was very consistent. He wasn't scared in the sprints, but always sprinted 'properly', so he was very well respected.
He's someone who…as is often the case with the guys from north Europe, could seem quite cold at first, quite discreet, but who had a big heart. He was a very decent, honest guy. With us he wasn’t a leader in the sense that he spoke with the others, saying 'you do this, you do that', or whatever. He wasn't like that, but in his attitude, the way he carried himself, he was a leader. He wasn't someone who spoke a lot or shared things, but he was a very rigorous professional.
He's a no-brainer to have on this team because he's an insurance against risk. You knew he'd win between eight and 15 races a year. I think one year he won more than 20.
Alexandre Vinokourov - back-up leader
Vinokourov turned pro with us and in his first year, at 23, he won three stage races. So straight away when he arrived as a neo-pro, he was a leader. Straight away.
The second year he won the Dauphine, the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, went up a level, and left us for Telekom. We couldn't hold onto him, but he's someone who always remained, despite everything, very attached to the team.
Everything that happened afterwards, that's another matter. But in his time with us he left a good trace.
He's a natural leader, and we could tell straight away he was a big champion. He was a tough guy who imposed himself through his behaviour, his physical strength, and his force of will. We saw very quickly that he was a true leader.
Jean-Christophe Peraud – all-rounder
Jean-Christophe is a completely atypical rider – really out of the ordinary in the world of professional cycling. He came to the road very late after 11 years of mountain biking, but he still managed to finish runner-up at the Tour de France. For us it was the first time we'd finished second at the Tour, so it was something special, exceptional.
I'm picking him because, despite his unorthodox career path, his natural talent meant he still managed to reach the very top of the sport. He's a unique guy, with a unique story, who left a unique stamp on the team.
Samuel Dumoulin - road captain
Sam is a rider who wins a lot of races. He has won a lot for us – he was here a while ago, then went to Cofidis then came back. He's also my son-in-law, so there's a human attachment too.
He's a rider who fits the 'road captain' mould. He motivates and energises others, gives advice to the younger riders. He's a true road captain.
With Sam there's the sporting side and there's the family side. We do Christmas and every like that together. For me it's not really an issue. I don't put up barriers with things like that. It's two different things. For me, in elite sport there's also place for the human side, the family side – there are no barriers. It's elite sport, but he doesn't have any sort of privilege because he's family. It's natural.
What matters is how he acts as a sportsperson, and he is simply a fantastic figure to have on a team.
Laurent Biondi - domestique
Laurent was one of the riders on the team in the first year, when it was Chazal. He's been a friend for a long time – we rode together as amateurs. Rode against each other quite often but were always friends. As pros we ended up on the same teams on a couple of occasions and then when I set up Chazal in 1992 I took him as a rider. He stayed for two seasons and after that I gave him the role of directeur sportif – that's because of the trust I have in him. So there's a real history with me and him.
He's in the team more for the human, relational side of things, rather than based on his palmares. It's the fact we share that history, so he deserves his place on the list.
Laurent was a good 'small' rider. He was world champion on the track, won lots of six day races, but he also won races on the road, and was a decent all-rounder. He wasn't a top rider but he had a decent sprint and he could climb – he was very versatile.
Above all he's someone you can trust – a guy you can totally rely on. A great work ethic too. He really is a part of the soul of the team.
Simon Gerrans - puncheur
Another one who turned pro with me. He stayed for two years but really made a big impact in that time. He's a model professional, but he's also a very nice, very charming guy, who never forgets he turned pro with us. Whenever he passes by at the start of a race and I shout 'hey, Simon!' he'll brake and turn around and come and chat.
Simon won some races with us and made a great impression in the team – I really appreciate him as a rider. He's a true 'winner', and a true professional. He's a guy who started cycling pretty late but who has a quality palmares. He has that feel for a race that you can't always teach – and he showed it from a very early stage. He's the only rider, in the 25 years I've been a manager, who I've sent to the Tour de France in his first year as a professional. The only one.
He was quite quiet but a natural leader – even if with us he didn't yet have a proper leadership role. He's very determined, knows exactly what he wants. He's very professional.
Cyril Dessel - climber
Cyril wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, which was something special. He was with us for a long time and took some beautiful victories – including that stage win at the Tour de France. He's another one who has made a mark on the history of the team.
He wasn't the loudest guy but was actually very mischievous. He had a strong sense of humour, always having a laugh. He wasn't an extravagant sort of guy – quite quiet actually – but he was just a great guy to be around. His manner with people was very jolly – he was very easy to get along with.
You can't underestimate how important it is to have people like that around, so that's why I've picked him.
Christophe Riblon - free role
Christophe is a big part of the history of the team. He turned pro with us and did great things – won two stages of the Tour de France. He's part of the soul of the team, has a very strong sense of belonging. He breathes AG2R-La Mondiale, and is part of our identity.
He has qualities of a road captain in that he gives advice to the other riders. He's a bit of a moaner, and often sounds off about this or that, but never in a nasty way. He can be quite highly-strung, never completely happy with himself, but is a good sprit – someone whose presence does the team good.
He hasn't had a 'linear' career; it's been a bit up and down. One really good period followed by one not so good. When he's in a bad patch, then he moans and complains, but when things are going well it's all ok.
But he's capable of pulling off real exploits. He won on Alpe d'Huez at the Tour de France, for example. That year he saved our Tour – we were going for GC with Peraud but he crashed and broke his collarbone. Then the next day Riblon won on Alpe d'Huez and saved our Tour.
He's capable of doing great great things. But on the other hand he's someone who can either be very good or very bad from one day to the next. He's not a consistent rider, but that's how he is. So you can't really give him a leadership role – I don't think he likes that role anyway. He prefers having a free role, without the pressure.
Reserve: Hubert Dupont - domestique
Am I allowed to have 10? I know it's not in the rules but if I can have a reserve then I'd like to include Hubert Dupont on the team. He's the perfect domestique. Really, perfect. He's a guy who is utterly devoted to the team's leaders, he's always up there, always doing his job, always organised, always able to put in a shift. You can count on him in any circumstance. He's a quiet chap, doesn't speak much, but you know you can rely on him. He must have done around 20 Grand Tours and he's abandoned once – because of a big crash. He never gives in – that's the characteristic of Hubert Dupont, and that's why he deserves to be on the list.