I guess it’s finally time to bring this preview mini-series to a close. Maybe I will run one last kit poll comparing all of the poll winners — a sort of cup-winners’ cup, if you will, of cycling fashion. Look for that early next week.
Anyway, since France is still the beating heart of the sport (sorry Belgium), let’s close out with that country’s most dynamic and exciting team, Groupama FDJ. I still think of them as just FDJ, or La Française des Jeux (“French games,” a/k/a the lottery), because I am increasingly old and stubborn. But not quite irrelevant! No, I will not be including La Vie Claire in any future previews. Anyway GFDJ are pretty exciting these days, and the alternative is a team that just switched to jean shorts, so let’s plow ahead here.
1. Is He Him?
You can tell that I read the internet sometimes with my hipster phrasing of the idea that a person might be important to the other people in his subculture. Not sure why we are more interested in who is Him, rather than who might be Her. Is it because women are less interested in that nonsense, or that we’ve all just agreed it’s Marianne Vos? Regardless, the question before us is whether David Gaudu could be, you know, Him.
The answer is hahaha, no, of course not, because Him is actually a religious reference and even a really great Frenchman won’t generate that level of cycling fan or other worship. [If a Frenchman were Him, you can bet that everyone would love the Vice-Him much more.] Also there is no way Gaudu is the next Tadej Pogačar, since he’s three years older, and he wasn’t even the previous Tadej Pogačar. But — not to overreact to one day’s results in March — it is clear that he is a vastly superior climber to defending Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard and is going to give Pogs a serious fright in this summer’s Grand Boucle. [Hey, this is a sport where people ask if Mathieu van der Poel can win the Tour de France, OK?]
What? Well, if you want to take a broader, more responsible approach to analyzing Gaudu, you could note that he has made steady progression as a stage racer, all the way to his fourth place in the 2022 Tour de France. I’m not sure much has changed beyond consistency, though — he still isn’t much of a time triallist except in the versions that favor the climbers. But he’s been equally competitive over a variety of climbing stages, and this year’s Tour won’t crush his chances with flat crono kms like it might in other years.
I will say that he is the favorite for that last podium place. He should be at or slightly above his 2022 level, assuming his preparation comes off without issue, and it’s hard (though not impossible) to expect Geraint Thomas to repeat his fine Tour performance on a course where his natural edge in the TT is taken away. That leaves someone from below, or even from outside like Giro winner Jai Hindley, and of course such things are possible. But Gaudu has the inside track.
2. Does Gaudu Have Enough Help?
Yes, and no. There are a few factors that I can see for a guy who is almost an eyewitness to the action as much as anything. While Pogs and Vingegaard duke it out, Gaudu can sit on whichever wheel he wants as the top two guys either ignore him or try to involve him in some triangulation. Only when he asserts his superiority over Vingegaard again does he move into Pogs’ target range and get ridden off wheels on purpose.
[OK, just to be clear, I really am not worried about Vingegaard’s fitness three months from now.]
But while Gaudu might not have to worry about direct aggression, he still may have his share of anxious moments leading up to the key climbing battles, and he will need actual teammates to get through. The two clearest candidates are Kevin Geniets — riding by Gaudu’s side throughout stage 4 — and Thibaut Pinot. Geniets has one Tour under his belt and seems like a competent all-rounder, while Pinot has already finished on the Tour podium, and while this is his swan song which raises what kind of fun he might want to have on his way out, he will be exactly the veteran presence Gaudu will want nearby.
3. Wait, Are We Sure Madouas Isn’t their Biggest Star?
No, We are not!! And by “we” I mean everyone who isn’t a French cycling fan and/or is obsessed with the Tour of Flanders. I must admit, I have done an embarrassing job of tracking Mad Val, the Beast of Brest (I am workshopping nicknames for him), and his accelerating rise in the sport. I can rattle off the results — third in Flanders last year, second in Strade Bianche last week, etc. — but I can’t say I’ve seen him do anything dramatic in the process. From those two top results he seems to know instinctively when to jump on an attack, and he got away from the chasing group off camera in Siena through what must have been a well-timed jump (did we ever get a replay there?).
His real strength is his strength, staying with guys like van der Poel and Pogačar and van Baarle and so on through the finales of these hard races. Strade Bianche indicates that his rise has very much carried over from last season, and may be ready to hit new heights. Madouas is signed up for the Cobbledier Cobbled Classics (E3, Dwars, Ronde, but not G-W) so we should know more pretty soon. He is on their Tour roster too, where he can make plenty of noise in the middling events. At 26, this is a huge year for him.
Also here is a sentence about Arnaud Démare, in the unlikely event that you don’t already know all you need to about him. He will probably win Paris-Roubaix because I neglected to say anything of substance about him here.
4. What’s With Their Budget?
Ugh, my least favorite subject that I actually want to write about, solely because of the frustrating lack of actual information. I feel like I will wake up to a story in the Washington Post titled “here are every nation’s nuclear launch codes” before I will wake up to read “here is an accurate assessment of every World Tour team’s budgets.” Which is super annoying because a) I really don’t want anyone’s nuclear launch codes, and b) cycling team budgets are definitely part of the explanation for what we are watching at any given moment. Why does this rider have such great support and that one doesn’t? Why would this team bother to race at the top level if it can’t invest in faster equipment or better training advice? And so on.
Still, GFDJ were recently (two years ago now) rated as the sport’s #7 budget, by one mysteriously sourced assessment, so it seems reasonable(ish) to infer that they now rank somewhere around average. And yet, with a few decent salaries coming off the books (Attila Valter?), their big countermove was to promote seven riders from their development squad... and that’s it. I can’t recall a large, established team ever doing this, but I also can’t recall some of my neighbors’ names after living in the same house for 19 years, so take that as you will.
Is this a good sign though? I think it is, for a few reasons. First, it’s very healthy for people on your development team to know that they can expect to move up to the Pro squad if they perform well and not just see their hopes and dreams peddled away to some Belgian draft horse domestique entering his 30s. Secondly, if you run through the results of the seven promotees, it’s a pretty impressive list. Romain Gregoire just took 8th at Strade Bianche, after sixth in Laigueglia and fifth in Faun Ardèche — the sum of these results being nearly his age (20). [And no, I am not among the 260 FSA DS team owners who foresaw this.] Lorenzo Germani, Enzo Paleni, Lenny Martinez and Reuben Thompson all took nice wins or GC spots in stage races last year. Samuel Watson is already competing in Pro Conti sprints, Laurence Pithie looks like a classics guy to watch.
The other thing is that Pinot is coming off the books after this year. Maybe they are squirreling away some cash this time around, plus Pinot’s salary, to make a big splash in the next transfer market? Or their budget is shrinking and they have to navigate that with less pricey kids, which is great if it works. Anyway, GFDJ have a lot going on right now.
Nobody changes their kit less frequently among the big teams, I think? See above for commentary about my memory. But there is a clear consistency to the efforts of the team’s fashionistas, which might have something to do with having the same two main sponsors for ages.
Current Look: Bathed in Bleu
Why stand out from the annual onslaught of blue kits when you can just blend in? I am being sarcastic right now.
2021-22: More red than ever
The team has been bleu-blanc-rouge since almost its first year, but with less rouge than the other colors. A full red sleeve was as prominent as red ever got on their kit. It’s kind of a can’t-go-wrong combination and the balance is probably a good thing?
2018-2020: Red, Like I Said
These two incarnations cover five years with more or less the same kit, except for the shape of the little stripes on the torso, which got all pointy in 2021 but before that were just regular stripes in three colors. I could make fun of this but it’s a nod to insurance company Groupama coming along, with its incredibly boring stripey logo.
2014-17: White Below, Colors and Shapes Above
Definite contender here. As you’ll see below, they went for it with white on several occasions, but this one incorporates a nice amount of varied blue tones, a red sash of sorts, and the modern clover logo. All good stuff!
2013: First All Blue Kit
This year’s antecedent. It’s a bit more of a signature look for them, if you compare blue tones, given that this year’s darker one looks an awful lot like some other teams. So this one gets higher marks for originality at least.
And now the antecedent for the all-white look. It was an update on their original standard (hang on), with the modernized logo, which I like. And then... it’s just a lot of creative white space, just falling short of “your logo here!” appeals to sponsors.
The Original Look: So Many Clovers
The old look leaned harder into four-leaf clovers, which I think is about luck as something you need in order to play the lottery and have that be a better idea than just lighting your money on fire. Basically, it was just all about clovers, with a blue short version as well as a white one. This older photo is just a field of clovers:
It was definitely original. And as a nostalgia freak I am having sentimental feelings here.
I may have skipped over some worthy entrants but I don’t have all day, and neither do you. So here is what they looked like in their original incarnation with a bunch of numbers all over the place. I am not having sentimental feelings here. The late 90s were kind of a wild west for kit designers — see every Mapei kit. I do not miss the late 90s.
OK, go vote!
What’s your favorite FDJ kit?
This poll is closed
2023: Blue Suit
2021-22: Red sleeve with pointy abs
2018-20: Red sleeve with stripey abs
2014-17: White Below, Party on Top
2013: First all blue
2011-12: first all white
Older Clover with blue shorts
Older clover with white shorts
Wacky numbers thing