Bbox Bouygues Telecom boss Jean-René Bernaudeau has an important couple of weeks ahead of him. As his team prepare to start Paris-Nice on Sunday, Bernaudeau will be looking beyond what is Bbox’s first key objective of the season to a series of meetings he has lined up with companies interested in taking over sponsorship of his squad when its current backers withdraw at the end of the current season.
"I’ve got three very important meetings set up in March with national and international companies," Bernaudeau told the Ouest France newspaper. "If all this comes to an end I would be in better health because I would sleep better. But it would be the failure of my life. There are 100 people who depend on this project – families, children.
"My meetings are very important because we have to combine a coherent strategy for the team with the strategy of a company. [Phone and electronics manufacturer] LG almost joined us, but they chose to go into Formula 1 until 2013. That deal was with the French arm of the company, not the international arm, which didn’t see cycling as the best way to boost worldwide recognition."
Bernaudeau knows all too well that success for his team at Paris-Nice would boost his own chances of locating a new sponsor no end. He is hoping that his riders will build on the strong start they have made to the season and be able to improve on last year’s performance at 'the race to the sun' when Thomas Voeckler finished second on a stage and Yuri Trofimov was ninth overall.
"The objective is to arrive in Nice with two riders capable of finishing in the top-ten," said Bernaudeau, who believes a tricky route will favour his riders, especially if France's currently unsettled weather patterns continue.
Asked about his team’s fall from ProTour status and the resulting absence from races such as the Tour Down Under and Tirreno-Adriatico, Bernaudeau pointed out: "The first ten in the overall and the first three on each stage score points in ProTour races. Last year we scored zero points in those two races, so we’ve missed out on two races where we didn’t make a mark last year. But we’ve really been penalized by not getting an invite to the Tour of Basque Country because we’ve always gone well there."
Bernaudeau added that if Pierrick Fédrigo had won rather than finishing second in last year’s GP de Plouay, BBox would have finished three places higher in the ProTour standings and retained that status this season.
But he prefers to look ahead rather than back, and insisted his squad is looking stronger than ever. "They’ve matured, the average age is higher and there’s less nervousness and more serenity among them. Voeckler and Fédrigo are only 30 and are in their best years. And we will have some revelations among our riders aged 23-27: [Sébastien] Turgot, [Cyril] Gautier, [Pierre] Rolland, [Damien] Gaudin and [Alexandre] Pichot, who was 11th in the Tour of Flanders last year."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).