By Jean-François Quénet
With five days to go to France's Paris-Nice, French cycling's traditional stage race season opener, the teams from the host nation have carefully chosen their line-ups. All five French teams have ridden successfully at the beginning of the year, but Paris-Nice, March 8 to 15, will be the first test of their competitiveness.
Française des Jeux: Sandy Casar, Sébastien Chavanel, Mickaël Chérel, Sébastien Joly, Mathieu Ladagnous, Christophe Le Mevel, Jérémy Roy and Jussi Veikkanen.
Française des Jeux has two captains with Sandy Casar and Jussi Veikkanen. The latter has come close to wins with ninth in the Tour Down Under, second in the Tour Méditerranéen and third in the Tour du Haut Var. On-form Mathieu Ladagnous will have some freedom to attack. Sébastien Chavanel will be their sprinter for the first two stages.
AG2R La Mondiale: José Luis Arrieta, Stéphane Goubert, Hubert Dupont, Vladimir Efimkin, Sébastien Hinault, Rinaldo Nocentini, Christophe Riblon and Nicolas Roche.
The team will clearly be riding once again for sprinter Rinaldo Nocentini. The winner of stage seven of the Tour of California finished second in Paris-Nice last year behind Davide Rebellin. Rebellin's current Diquigiovanni-Androni team isn't taking part in the Race to the Sun.
Bbox Bouygues Telecom: Olivier Bonnaire, Cyril Gautier, Yohann Gène, Iouri Trofimov, Alexandre Pichot, Pierre Rolland, Sébastien Turgot and Thomas Voeckler.
After winning the Etoile de Bessèges and the Tour du Haut Var, also showing a consistent form in Belgium (11th in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and 14th in the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne), Thomas Voeckler is the natural leader.
The team from Vendée also has high ambitions for their young French prodigies: European Under 23 champion Cyril Gautier and up-and-coming Pierre Rolland, who broke away on Sunday at the Clasica Almería and succumbed only with four kilometres to go. Tour de Langkawi stage seven winner Gène will also line up with great confidence.
Cofidis: Stéphane Augé, Mickaël Buffaz, Samuel Dumoulin, Amaël Moinard, David Moncoutié, Damien Monier, Rémi Pauriol and Rein Taaramäe.
After winning the GP Lugano ahead of last year's Paris-Nice winner Davide Rebellin, Pauriol is full of hopes prior to his first big goal of the year. Moncoutié, who won the uphill stage the Tour Méditerranéen at the Mont Faron, targets the mountains classification. Estonian talent Taaramäe looks to take one step higher in his career.
Agritubel: Maxime Bouet, Sylvain Calzati, Romain Feillu, Yann Huguet, Christophe Laurent, Geoffroy Lequatre, Christophe Moreau and Nicolas Vogondy.
Quite successful in the category two races recently, Agritubel will count on French champion Vogondy and the man of the come-backs Calzati for the overall classification at Paris-Nice. Offensive and fast men Feillu and Lequatre have no intention of staying silent next week.