The Direct Energie team hope to return to the top tier of professional cycling and will submit a formal application to the UCI for a WorldTour licence for the 2019 season.
The French team, run by Jean-René Bernaudeau, currently operates at Professional Continental level, making wildcard appearances at selected WorldTour races - primarily in France - such as Paris-Nice and the Tour de France.
In announcing their WorldTour aspirations on Wednesday, Bernaudeau insisted it would be merited on sporting criteria. The team has 14 victories so far this season, the highlight being Jonathan Hivert and Jérôme Cousin's wins at Paris-Nice. Lilian Calmejane hasn't hit the heights of last year, when he won seven races including a stage on his Tour de France debut, but the 25-year-old is widely considered one of the top talents in French cycling.
"I have always believed that candidature for the WorldTour should be based on sporting considerations. We've just finished a Tour de France in which our team of baroudeurs were among the most visible. Even if we didn't win a stage, we animated the Tour and set ourselves apart through our audacity and aggressiveness - that's what the public want, and that's how we're going to go after the biggest success," said Bernaudeau.
"In the past two-and-a-half years, we have taken 63 victories in the colours of Direct Energie. This season, we're on 14, and despite sparing appearances in WorldTour races, we claimed two prestigious victories at Paris-Nice. We want to multiply our chances to shine."
Bernaudeau established the Direct Energie team in 2000, when it was known as Bonjour. They started out in the second tier of professional cycling teams categories but moved up to the top tier from 2002. They joined the ProTour when it was launched in 2005 but they dropped out after a poor 2009 season. They made a brief return to the top tier in 2011, when the ProTour changed to the WorldTour.
The team came close to folding at the end of the 2015 season but Direct Energie eventually came on board to replace Europcar as title sponsor. Last spring the energy company announced a two-year extension to its sponsorship, and the WorldTour plans - which would require a budget increase to cover the new races and extra riders - represent further commitment.
"After what's soon to be three seasons with Jean-René and Team Direct Energie, with whom we share values, the time has come to embark on new ambitions," said Xavier Caïtucoli, CEO of Direct Energie. "With this team, we have found a formidable vehicle for our brand, which we've showcased across digital, social, video, hospitality and the Tour de France publicity caravan. Going forward, the team is destined to play a leading role in the international peloton, and the WorldTour is the natural environment to satisfy that ambition."
It is unclear if Direct Energie will be able to move up to WorldTour level in 2019, with a full complement of the 18 existing teams set to apply for renewals. The BMC Racing Team is merging with CCC but the WorldTour licence remains in the hands of holding company Continuum Sports. Dimension Data are the lowest-ranked team in the WorldTour and would, in theory, be the team 'at risk' if the battle for licences came down to rankings points, as it threatened to do at the end of the 2016 season.
The UCI is currently working on further reforms to the WorldTour to take effect from 2020, with plans to reduce the number of teams in the top tier from 18 to 15, with the bottom three teams in next year's WorldTour rankings facing de facto relegation to the Pro Conti ranks.
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