2013 Report Card: Ag2r-La Mondiale

Ag2r-La Mondiale 2013
WorldTour Ranking: 12th/19
Win Count: 8
Top riders: Carlos Betancur 14th, Domenico Pozzovivo 34th, Jean-Christophe Péraud 48th
Grade: D

In 2013, Colombian riders returned to the very forefront of international cycling, and Carlos Betancur in his first season at the French Ag2r-La Mondiale team was a revelation. The acquisition of Betancur ensured podium places but the season highlight was Christophe Riblon’s stage win at the Tour de France on the double ascent of Alpe d’Huez. Once again, though, there was an imbalance of performances with only eight riders standing atop the podium and a lack of success at the WorldTour level

Ag2r-La Mondiale had somewhat of a transitional season following the loss of Nicolas Roche to Saxo-Tinkoff which led to a change in tack for Ag2r in the Grand Tours.

Betancur had a super start to the season, although could not recapture that form in September for the Worlds and Il Lombardia, while Riblon had a super month in July. Disappointingly, Riblon was the only rider to win a WorldTour race, with stage victories at the Tour de France and Tour de Pologne. Beside Riblon’s stage wins and combativity prize at the Tour, Betancur and Romain Bardet won young rider classifications (Giro d'Italia and Tour of Beijing, respectively) but that was it for the team's successes at the WorldTour level in 2013.

Bardet will be burdened with the pressure of being another French hope for future Tour success but he may just be capable of delivering. His breakthrough Tour de France was representative of the team’s season, plenty of promise but no cigar.

Changes over the off-season saw 11 riders join and 10 riders leave, including Steve Houanard, who was sacked after a positive test for EPO. The loss of Roche, Sébastien Hinault, Martin Elmiger and Kristof Goddaert among others impacted on the nucleus of the team.

When Blel Kadri soloed to the win at Roma Maxima, the season appeared full of promise. In the Ardennes, Betancur placed third at La Flèche Wallonne and backed that up with fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège days later. This came off seventh place overall at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco although he did not finish Amstel Gold.

At the Giro, Betancur and Domenico Pozzovivo were riding under the radar with all eyes focused on Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali. Betancur had three second places on stages at the Giro, while his duel with Rafal Majka in the final week for the white jersey was an intriguing feature of the race.

Betancur didn’t post another result in the season but will have the knowledge that he can complete for a podium place at Grand Tours in the future. His win of the maglia bianca in the cold and wet proved he is an adaptable rider capable of persevering when the going gets tough. Betancur will make his Tour debut in 2014 and a different schedule may see him hold form until October.

The piece de résistance of the season was Riblon’s win at the Tour. Kadri, Bardet and Riblon all enjoyed a stage with a red dossard, having been judged the most combative on the previous day, and it was Riblon who was the eventual winner of the competition. A stage win and most combative meant the cameras scanned the peloton for the Ag2r riders throughout July but largely, they failed to fire.

Riblon held his form to snag a stage at the Tour de Pologne but that would be it for WorldTour wins in 2013

Pozzovivo entered his second Grand Tour in 2013 with little expectation and his sixth place overall at the Vuelta a España was a nice surprise. Third place in the Stage 11 time trial set up another top ten finish for the part-time pianist.

With his result, Ag2r could claim a respectable showing in the Grand Tours and with the promise of what Bardet, Betancur and Pozzovivo can achieve, next year looks like an exciting prospect.

While the overall classification results were promising, Bardet notched the only overall victory. Results were posted at Étoile de Bessèges, Tour Méditerranéen, Giro del Trentino, the Tour de France and Tour de Pologne.

The team needs to step it up with a greater spread of winners but with the team having spent another season together, there should be a better understanding if each other’s talents and how to excel.

While Bardet let the cycling world know of his talents at the Tour, it was the performance of Jean-Christophe Péraud in July that also occupied the newspaper columns. Unfortunately after crashing during the warm-up before the final ITT at the Tour, Péraud broke his collarbone. He decided to race on to protect his top ten placing yet was undone by the wet and greasy roads. He crashed on the corner where his wife was cheering him on and landed on the same side as he had previously that day. His Tour was over.

The sacking of Sylvain Georges after a positive at the Giro was expected and the team’s commitment to the MPCC anti-doping movement mean it voluntarily missed the Critérium du Dauphiné. This made it two doping sackings in consecutive years after Steve Houanard’s EPO positive Disappointingly, Georges had only moved to Ag2r at the beginning of 2012 after an on-off racing career and looked like a good addition to the team.

The failure to be competitive on the WorldTour is an area which needs drastic improvement. As a staple of the peloton, Ag2r need to prove that deserve to be at the top because of results and not just because of their brown shorts.

What to expect in 2014: With a solitary overall victory in 2013, Ag2r need to build confidence in their GC riders by chasing wins at week-long races. The responsibility of leading the race and spending time in the leader’s jersey is what their riders need.

Team Sky has perfected this art as Wiggins in 2012 and Froome this season have shown. Their riders are more than capable but they need to look to more than the odd stage win and top ten grand tour places. There will come a time when the team needs to deliver on its promise and they have to talent to do so. They also have a good balance of experience which should work in their favour.

With Bardet, Betancur, Péraud and Riblon, Ag2r have an array of grand tour riders and the challenge for 2014 will be to build on the success of this season.

Rider of the Season: Having ridden with the Italian team Aqua & Sapone for two seasons, Betancur’s first season at a WorldTour team was an overwhelming success. It was at the Giro where Betancur particularly excelled, in what was just his second grand tour appearance. Having placed 59th at the 2011 edition, there was little expectation the Colombian climber would perform so well.

Betancur mistakenly celebrated victory on Stage 9 at the Giro, failing to register that Maxim Belkov was up the road, but this faux pas was quickly forgotten with victory in the youth classification.

In 2010 Betancur had won two stages at the amateur Giro, the GiroBio, and his 2013 results suggests that he could be future winner of the race in years to come. While Betancur won’t take part in the 2014 Giro, it is a race that is sure to take his fancy in the future considering his success in this year’s edition.

Best signing: The addition of Sébastien Turgot will add class and hopefully some victories. Turgot has proven himself in the Classics and will be given the opportunity to improve upon his second place at the 2012 Paris-Roubaix.

As the only big name signing for 2013, Ag2r appear to be learning from the off-season and limiting the amount of change in the squad. Damien Gaudin is another good signing but with the acquisitions from last season still yet to really fire Turgot may find the pressure to perform is off and he can find his feet a little at first.

Biggest loss: With only minimal change to the squad as John Gadret moves on there is little to be said of the departures. Gadret had disappointing season as he had no results to speak of on the road. He won the French Cyclo-Cross championship early in the year and his to Movistar isn’t one likely to induce tears of regret.

Man to watch: Romain Bardet had a breakout Tour, placing 15th overall and fourth in the young rider classification. With a long term contract signed, he looks to be the future GC star for the team. Soon to turn 23-years-old, he has his best years ahead of him and will be nurtured as a future French star of the sport.

Bardet finished off the season strongly with victory in the young rider classification at the Tour of Beijing after a long season. He managed to notch his first overall victory in August at the Tour de l’Ain as he also took home the points classification. While French riders have been burdened with the weight of expectation since Bernard Hinualt won his last Tour title in 1985, this generation of riders look like spreading that load between them in order to conquer the yellow jersey.

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