After turning down offers from BMC and Quickstep in the past, Cedric Vasseur has finally taken the plunge and moved into team management, replacing Yvon Sanquer at Cofidis. Once a rider for the struggling French team, Vasseur is hoping to bring a new way of thinking to the squad, with a more aggressive style of racing, greater focus on professionalism and hope of getting the best out of Nacer Bouhanni on his list of priorites.
Top of Vassuer’s to-do list will be to install a new mentality within the French team. Their last Tour de France stage win came almost a decade ago and since then Cofidis lacked both organisation, star-quality, and the necessary approach to win consistently on the biggest stage.
In recent years the team has put their efforts into supporting Nacer Bouhanni, and while the sprinter has won the lion's share of their victories since moving from FDJ, the team have failed to provide a suitable back up plan and an alternative. Cofidis finished second in the UCI Europe Tour rankings and Bouhanni topped the Europe Tour ranking but only five other Cofidis riders tasted victory in 2017, and other than Bouhanni, only Anthony Perez won more than once.
“The challenge, and it’s the same for every team, is to create the right spirit,” Vasseur told Cyclingnews.
“If you have the right spirit then you have the base to win races. It’s true that the team lacked an image in terms of victories and I think the sponsors were expecting a few better results. When you’ve got one of the best sprinters in the world in Nacer Bouhanni then you should expect victories at the highest level but they weren’t really coming. Professionalism is also going to be really important because I feel like we’re bringing in a new project.”
“What I want, and what I’m waiting for is for the team to win both with and without Nacer. It’s not all about Nacer but in the last few years it’s all been centred on him and it’s meant that other riders have lost their winning instinct. If you’re working for just one rider then you’re never going to be in a break, and that has to change. I want to see a team that’s more aggressive. I want to see the Cofidis jersey in breaks and this will help take the pressure off Nacer. He’s a great rider, and he’s the leader of the team but by putting all the pressure on his shoulders the team lost a lot of races.”
Vasseur wore the Tour de France yellow jersey in 1997, the same year Cofidis made their debut in the race
Taking the pressure of Bouhanni
Pressure certainly has been a factor for Bouhanni in the past, with issues over his temperament often clouding his judgement both on and off the bike.
He famously missed the Tour de France in 2016 after an altercation with a fellow hotel guest left the sprinter with an injured hand. According to reports, Bouhanni threw a punch because the guest was making too much noise. And during the 2017 Tour Bouhanni was fined for lashing out with his fist in the direction of a QuickStep rider during stage 10.
Vasseur’s task will be to try and help Bouhanni channel his focus into more appropriate forms of aggression. The sprinter is undoubtedly a fine talent and Vasseur believes that there is even more untapped potential under the hood.
“First off all I need to talk to him. What I know is that he’s a big talent. We’ll have lots of discussions over the winter and I’ll make him aware of just how good he can be. I’m thinking he can win the biggest races and first up is Milan-San Remo. He’s able to win that. The problem is that he’s lost confidence over the last few years. That’s made him nervous and we just need to work on the mental side. His physical attributes are phenomenal.”
Being ahead of the curve
Given the timing, and the fact that the 2018 roster is all but confirmed; Vasseur must work with the riders already at his disposal. His predecessor signed all 25 riders on the team for next year but in new signings, Jose and Jesus Herrada, Vasseur has two riders who can add dynamism to the squad.
“We’re welcoming the Herrada brothers and that’s going to help us in hilly races. We don’t have a rider to deal with the kings of GC like Chris Froome and Richie Porte but Yvon Sanquer put the team together and we’ve got some young guns and young talent. They need a few years to develop but Jesus Herrada is exciting. He’s worked with Valverde and Quintana and for sure he can be a GC rider in races like Paris-Nice.”
With a pro career that stretched to over a decade, and ten years of experience in various roles - from the CPA to television - Vasseur is hoping to bring his own style or management to Cofidis. As a rider he raced for a number of high profile managers, from Roger Legay to Johan Bruyneel, Patrick Lefevere to Alain Bondue.
“I want to be Cedric Vasseur. I don’t want to be like anyone else. I want to work on the human side but it’s true that someone like Lefevere is a modern manager. I rode for him in my last two years. He’s someone who is good at finding the next talent and he’s always ahead of the curve. I want to always be ahead.”
For Vasseur the race starts now.