Cosnefroy eyes Tour de France yellow jersey as 'fresh wind' blows through AG2R-Citroën

(Image credit: Vincent Curutchet)

With Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour leaving and Greg Van Avermaet and Bob Jungels among a wave of new signings, Benoît Cosnefroy has noted a 'fresh wind' blowing through the AG2R-Citroën team.

The 25-year-old puncheur now finds himself as the leading light from a French perspective and, after taking another step forward in 2020, he’s aiming big for 2021, with sights set on the Classics and the Tour de France yellow jersey. 

While Bardet and Latour had grown tired of the set-up and needed something new, Cosnefroy has bought whole-heartedly into a new 'project', enhanced by new sponsor Citroën, that sees the team pivot away from stage racing to go big on the Classics. Along with cobbled classics leader Oliver Naesen, he signed a three-year contract early in the pandemic-hit season to become on the of the team’s central figures. 

"I’m completely happy with this new direction. It’s a fresh wind, and I’m very pleased Citroën is joining us - that’s pushing us to aim higher," he told the press this week.

"The recruitment has been geared around the Classics and I’m very happy to now be able to ride alongside a teammate like Greg. I was convinced by this project when Vincent [Lavenu - team manager] presented it to me when we were negotiating my new contract. It was for that reason I placed my faith in the team for three more years. From what I’ve seen already this winter, with the hive of activity down at the service course, I don’t regret it. I’m convinced it’s a magnificent project."

After ending his season with second place at Paris-Tours, Cosnefroy took almost a month off to return to his native Normandy, but he has recently been ramping up his 2021 preparations with new kits and BMC bikes, and a 10-day block of training in Nice. In early January, he’ll head to Spain for a full team training camp before a planned season debut at the GP La Marseillaise, which he won last year.

Although his race programme has not been confirmed, he is likely to have another all-French start with the Etoile de Bessèges, which he also won last year. The main focus of the spring will be the Ardennes Classics, with a cobbled debut likely to wait as he targets the Tour of the Basque Country. The Canadian WorldTour Classics will finish the season but a major goal will come in the summer at the Tour de France.

After wearing the polka-dot jersey this year, Cosnefroy is now eyeing yellow, with two short-but-steep uphill finishes on the opening two days - first at Landerneau and then at the Mûr-de-Bretagne - set to put a puncheur in the overall lead. 

"Whoever wins on the first and second days will normally be in yellow. I’m not going to hide it… it’s an objective of mine," Cosnefroy said. 

"I hope to shine that weekend, and if I can do that, I could pull on the yellow jersey. It might seem a bit crazy, and it’s clearly a dream, but that’s what I’m preparing for - to make sure I arrive there at the peak of my form."

As well as impressing once again in the lower-level French races, Cosnefroy took a step forward and made an impact in the biggest Classics in 2020, even if he didn’t quite pull off a victory. He was runner-up at La Flèche-Wallonne before finishing on the podium at Brabantse Pijl after emerging with Julian Alaphilippe and Mathieu van der Poel as the strongest three in the race. 

"The end of the season went well for me, that’s true. I felt the expectation around me, even if I don’t compare myself to riders like Alaphilippe or Van der Poel - far from it," he said.

"This winter, that pushes me to be even better. It gives me the motivation to be at the highest level. In terms of pressure, not much has changed, because the greatest pressure comes from myself. I just have to manage it."

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