Total is set to replace Direct Energie as the title sponsor of Jean-René Bernaudeau’s ahead of Paris-Roubaix, according to a report in L’Équipe. The French petrochemical giant purchased the Direct Energie company last year, and it is anticipated that its branding will appear on the team’s kit from next month.
Although Bernaudeau declined to discuss the matter at Paris-Nice last week, L’Équipe reports that the team’s new identity will be formally unveiled ahead of Paris-Roubaix, which takes place on April 14.
In the immediate term, the switch from Direct Energie to Total would see a change in team kit, with Bernaudeau’s squad swapping their current black and yellow garb for a blue jersey with red details.
In the longer term, L’Équipe anticipates that the arrival of Total as title sponsor will lead to a significant increase in the team’s budget, which currently stands below €10 million per year. Total, headquartered in Courbevoie, Paris, is one of the world’s six ‘Big Oil’ companies, and has invested heavily in sports sponsorship in recent years, including in motorsport, rugby and football, where it owns the naming rights to the African Cup of Nations.
Direct Energie currently operate at Pro Continental level, but Bernaudeau has already announced his intention to seek a WorldTour licence for 2020. The team, then known as Bouygues Telecom, were among the original ProTour teams in 2005, but they have not featured in the top flight since 2014.
Bernaudeau highlighted his ambition ahead of the 2019 season when he completed the surprise signing of Niki Terpstra from QuickStep, and additional support from Total would further increase his chances of graduating from Pro Continental level next year.
L’Équipe reports that the UCI has been aware since the turn of the year of the plan for Total to replace Direct Energie as title sponsor. Bernaudeau's team grew out of the Vendee U amateur squad, and first hit the professional ranks under the Bonjour banner in 2000. Brioches La Boulangère sponsored the team in 2003 and 2004, before Bouygues Telecom took over in 2005. The team risked disbanding in late 2010 only for Europcar to take over at the eleventh hour. The car rental company backed the team for five years, before Direct Energie came on board ahead of the 2016 season.
Direct Energie are currently vying for one of the two remaining wildcard invitations to the 2019 Tour de France, together with fellow French Pro Continental outfits Vital Concept and Arkea-Samsic. There was little to separate the three teams during Paris-Nice, but the arrival of a sponsor of Total’s heft would likely strengthen the cause of Bernaudeau’s outfit.