Attributes: Probably the cutest team on the Pro Tour. Organized around the noble principle of giving riders from the Vendée region of France an opportunity in pro cycling. Nary a whiff of scandal around them. A true underdog team, always a good thing in France. Inspiring hope at home and in other small teams.
Problems: Usually found watching helplessly as larger Pro Tour teams systematically crush their hopes. Underdog status earned by infrequent results, owing largely to their refusal to sign riders outside the Vendée region and lack of access to doping products. Oh, the irony!
Key Rider: Pierrick Fedrigo. Everyone knows about Voeckler, the team leader, but Fedrigo is a competent all-rounder with decent results in the Ardennes, a Tour stage win, and a national championship to his name. For a team looking to sneak up on the peloton and steal some wins, here's a prime candidate.
Key Moment: First week of the Tour. What better way to repay a loyal sponsor -- providers of telecommunications service in most of France -- than to expose them to 32 countries on six continents? OK, every French team dreams of grabbing the spotlight before the overall hostilities really begin. So I guess this is the obvious answer. Also, I don't think they're sneaking up on anyone at Plouay this year. But maybe, just maybe, they can get someone away in an early break on one of the Brittany stages. Maybe Dimitri Champion will kick out a fabulous time trial in Cholet. Can't be ruled out.
Passing Thought: Rumors abound that Prudhomme wants to ban in-race radios from the peloton at the Tour. Presumably this will actually happen -- who's gonna stop him? And while I don't often agree with ASO, in this instance it's pure genius. Look, a Tour stage or other Pro Tour event involves a pretty complex set of calculations by the riders in general, so when things have reached a point of stasis, all you have to do is remove one of those calculations and the result is chaos. The peloton has collectively mastered the art of reeling in breaks, thanks to race radio. Take that away, and suddenly the big teams have some tough choices to make. The little teams start to feel like joining early breaks is no longer hopeless. This feeds right back into the paranoia of the big teams, and on and on. It changes everything -- including whether Thomas Voeckler should forget the GC and concentrate exclusively on chasing stage wins. And the Tour will be far more entertaining that first week than it has been in a while.