As it kicks off its 20th season in the professional peloton, the French AG2R-La Mondiale squad of manager Vincent Lavenu is re-evaluating its strategies and looking to improve upon a dismally low victory count of six from 2011.
Ranked second to last of the WorldTour teams, Lavenu looked outside his native land for recruits in order to boost his points tally to ensure a place in the sport's top tier. He hired Iranian Amir Zargari (third overall in the UCI's Asia Tour in 2011), Russian sprint ace Boris Shpilevskiy, Tour of Qinghai Lake winner Gregor Gazvoda of Slovenia and Italian sprinter Manuel Belletti.
Lavenu also brought French sprinter Jimmy Casper back to the WorldTour after a three-year hiatus. Casper, 34, ran afoul of the anti-doping authorities in the 2008 Tour de France when his therapeutic use exemption for his asthma medicine was not updated and he was declared positive. He has spent the past three seasons with the Saur Sojasun team.
Also joining the team is neo-pro Romain Bardet and Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour winner Sylvain Georges from Big Mat-Auber 93.
With the new additions, the team aims to increase its number of one-day race and stage victories, while still relying on riders such as Nicolas Roche, Jean-Christophe Péraud and John Gadret for the general classifications.
At the team's presentation in Paris, Gadret revealed that he would focus his season on the Giro d'Italia, and skip the Tour de France, which he failed to finish in 2011 after taking fourth in the Giro.
"It was a mistake," Gadret said of racing the Tour, according to L'Equipe. "I will not do it again."
With a sole focus on the Giro d'Italia, Gadret hopes to improve upon last year's result with a podium finish. "The course is a little less difficult than last year, but this is Italy," Gadret said. "I think I can do better than fourth. "
In 2011, Jean-Christophe Péraud took 10th overall in his first Tour de France, but the 34-year-old hopes to return to the mountain bike this year to qualify for the Olympic Games.
In Beijing, Péraud took the silver medal behind his compatriot Julien Absalon, but would still have to qualify for London through racing the World Cup races in the spring. He is still trying to work out his racing schedule with the team's directeurs sportif, and plans to slot MTB races in between Paris-Nice, where last year he took sixth overall, the Tour of the Basque Country, Flèche Wallonne and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
"I will start my season at the Etoile de Bessèges. I may have less form than last year at Paris-Nice, but the idea would be to make the same result."
Despite a focus on London, Péraud still plans to race the Tour de France and his team manager Lavenu thinks he can finish even better than last year.
"With two individual time trials, the Tour de France unveiled in October 2012 on paper is an ideal course for him to improve his results in July," said Lavenu, who thinks Péraud can finish as high as sixth or seventh overall.
AG2R La Mondiale for 2012:
Newcomers: Romain Bardet, Manuel Belletti, Jimmy Casper, Gregor Gazvoda, Sylvain Georges, Boris Shpilevskiy, Amir Zargari
Staying: Julien Berard, William Bonnafond, Maxime Bouet, Mickaël Chérel, Hubert Dupont, Martin Elmiger, John Gadret, Ben Gastauer, Sébastien Hinault, Steve Houanard, Blel Kadri, Goddaert Kristof, Romain Lemarchand, Sébastien Minard, Lloyd Mondory, Matteo Montaguti, Rinaldo Nocentini, Jean-Christophe Péraud, Mathieu Perget, Anthony Ravard, Christophe Riblon and Nicolas Roche.