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2007 Reviews: French Squads, En Breve, Part II

Continued from yesterday's post, where I think about French teams so you don't have to.


Fortunes: Static. Since Stuart O'Grady ditched them after 2005, they've had a lockdown on a ranking in the late teens and a point haul in the just-under-5000 range. Unlike some of the other French teams, they've done so by importing talent as the existing roster keeps crumbling. To wit: in 2005, Sylvain Chavanel and David Moncoutié scored big points, combined with O'Grady's, which saw the team maintain a respectable position. O'Grady left, Moncoutié completely evaporated (injury? his 2004-07 rankings: 94, 43, 748, 1337), and Chavanel slipped by a result or two. But in or on came Christian Moreni (boo!), Leonardo Bertagnolli, and Leonardo Duque... and about 1500 new points. Bertagnolli left after '06, but in came Nick Nuyens and his classics haul, ably covering another quantum slip by Chavanel.

As for Chavanel, who the hell knows what his deal is? Expectations can be unfair, so maybe his results are perfectly normal. He doesn't seem to be headed in the right direction, slipping steadily from 35th in 2004 to 164th this past year. Minor placings in grand tours and a top-10 at the Dauphine are all you can expect, and that's exactly what he delivered.

Nuyens, meanwhile, made a claim for captaincy with three wins and a fairly typical season by his standards. He didn't have a breakthrough win in Belgium for the first spring since 2004, but placing 7th in de Ronde was a personal best, and 2nd at Brabantse Pijl and 4th at Het Volk. More importantly, he rode his first Tour, lasting 16 stages (before the team withdrew), and had enough in his legs to lead the Eneco Tour from the get-go before crashing out in a mass pileup on stage 6. Only 27, Nuyens promises to be pretty useful on a team that doesn't have many options in Belgium.

What's it mean? Never did the team get more attention than when Moreni got bagged for testosterone at the tour. Stoopid... and as a result, Cofidis will be under some pressure this year to race cleanly and well. I think we can all hope for the former, but continued minimal relevance probably won't trouble anyone much. Personally I like seeing Nuyens away from Quick Step, where he brings another team to the Ronde table. Some support would be nice; Schierlinckx might be able to pitch in. Not sure what's bothering Moncoutié, but he's still young enough to hunt down another Tour stage. Also, from Wikipedia, he's an exemplary anti-doper who touts homeopathic treatment (which might explain the long absences). Also his nickname is "the Dreamer." How can you not root for this?

What (else) to watch '08: Leonardo Duque spent the Vuelta mixing it up with the big bunch sprinters, with some middlin success. He's part of the burgeoning field of young fast guys who could make an impact soon... although a better bet is that he gets lost in that rather competitive group.

Bouygues Telecom

Fortunes: Mezza-mezza. Hey, at least this is one team with a plan and a fairly stable outlook. Bouygues Telecom focus on promoting riders from the Vendee region of France, come what may. And that's translated into a slow growth in their CQ output, a steady stable of riders, and a nice comfortable spot in the bottom half of the Pro Tour. Laurent Brochard, long one of the country's more productive riders, racked up 448 points (rank: 115th) in his swan song. Jerome Pineau was steady, scoring a 17th and 11th in La Fleche and Liege. And of course team mascot and leader Thomas Voeckler had another successful season on home soil, winning the GP Plouay, the Paris-Nice KOM jersey, and the Tour du Poitou
Charentes et de la Vienne.

What's it mean? Nothing much seems to change: they occupy about the same ranking spot, they rack up a disproportionate share of their points on home soil, and they get a moment or two of attention in July. Brochard's retirement will require someone to step up and claim his points, but with no other changes in the team, the development of the younger guys -- or an extra Voeckler surprise someplace -- will cover it. Pineau is well in his prime and could sneak away from the big boys someday.

What (else) to watch '08: Dimitri Champion and Stef Clement, both in the 25-y.o. range, give Bouygues two talented riders against the watch; Clement especially. After that... ?


Fortunes: Down, a bit. Basically, Cyril Dessel and Christophe Moreau didn't kick as much ass in 2007 as they previously had. Actually, Dessel's major contribution to the team's fortunes in 2006, with his 7th placing on the Tour's GC, completely disappeared. Why I'm not sure, but given his flop in the Alpes I'll assume it was injury-related (he eventually withdrew). Tough luck. Moreau actually got more press this year with his gritty win of the Dauphine, including the illustrious Mt. Ventoux stage. But his overall performance was down a tick, thanks to his own plummet from 8th at the '06 Tour to 37th this time around.

Simon Gerrans also slipped some, skipping out on Australian races where he'd cleaned up in '06... but newcomer Martin Elminger defended the team's TDU title regardless, and added some other decent results (16th at Amstel, 10th at the Worlds) to well justify his signing. John Gadret rode surprisingly well at Catalunya and Lombardia, while winning the Tour de l'Ain as well. And though not exactly the hope of the future, all-rounder Ludovic Turpin and sprinter Alex Usov scored decently.

What's it mean? Hm, big changes? Gerrans and Moreau have skipped town, the latter depriving the team of its most consistent attention-getter. Incoming is a newer, better leader (albeit less French) in Vlad Efimkin, who led the tours of Switzerland and Spain capably for some time, scoring an iconic stage win at Lagos de Covadonga along the way. At 24, Efimkin is at a minimum a capable stage racer, and I don't have a guess as to how high his ceiling may be. If Dessel can squeeze out another healthy season or two, they could be a solid presence in July. Also en route is Tadej Valjavec, a veteran chronoman.

What (else) to watch '08: Kids? Hm, as far as I can tell, development isn't their bag.