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CyclingQuotes gives a detailed analysis of FDJ

Photo: A.S.O.




25.12.2016 @ 13:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The holiday is over and it is time for the professional riders to start their serious training for the 2017 season. After the team building activities at the first team meetings in November, the month of December is traditionally the time for the first real training camps where the first drafts of the season schedules are made and just a few weeks later, the cycling season is in full swing at the Tour Down Under. During the next few weeks, CyclingQuotes prepares you for the coming season in a series of analyses where we take a detailed look at each of the 18 WorldTour teams and what to expect during the next 12 months.


Below we take a look at FDJ.


Returning riders

William Bonnet, Arnaud Courteille, Mickael Delage, Arnaud Demare, Odd Christian Eiking, Marc Fournier, Daniel Hoelgaard, Ignatas Konovalovas, Matthieu Ladagnous, Olivier Le Gac, Johan Le Bon, Jeremy Maison, Lorrenzo Manzin, Steve Morabito, Cedric Pineau, Thibaut Pinot, Sebastien Reichenbach, Kevin Reza, Anthony Roux, Jeremy Roy, Marc Sarreau, Benoit Vaugrenard, Arthur Vichot


New signings

Davide Cimolai (Lampre-Merida), David Gaudu (neo-pro), Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha), Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Leo Vincent (neo-pro)


Riders leaving the team

Sebastien Chavanel (retires), Kenny Elissonde (Sky), Murilo Antonio Fischer (retires), Alexandre Geniez (Ag2r), Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (?), Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept)


Analysis of the transfer season

For a few years, FDJ have had a dual focus: stage races with Thibaut Pinot and sprints and classics with Arnaud Demare. The team has had most success with the former and so it is a bit of a surprise that their transfer campaign has clearly been designed to improve the sprint train. At the same time, the team have lost two of their best climbers and overall it seems that the support team for Pinot is weaker than it was in 2016.


At the start of his career, Demare was a real winning machine but that has not been the case in recent years. He may have won Milan-Sanremo but apart from that, his 2016 season was fairly meagre. One problem is that the Frenchman is no longer as fast as he once was but the biggest problem is that his positioning skills are no longer as they once was. Hence, it makes good sense that the team have signed two riders who can strengthen the train significantly.


Already in 2016, the FDJ train showed great signs of improvement. In fact, they were among the best in both the Giro and the Eneco Tour where they were up against some of the best in the business. Unfortunately, Demare was up against faster riders in those races but the performance showed that they are getting far in their quest to build a strong train.


For 2017, they will lose two of their veterans, Sebastien Chavanel and Murilo Fischer. Instead, they have signed Davide Cimolai and Jacopo Guarnieri and the addition of the latter is a big coup. During his time with Alexander Kristoff, Guarnieri has developed into one of the very best lead-out men in the world and he is likely to take the place of Mickael Delage just in front of Demare. Cimolai should also be a valuable addition and if the two Italians combine forces with the likes of Delage, Marc Sarreau and Daniel Hoelgaard who built a strong train in 2017, the lead-out has been bolstered significantly.


In 2016, almost all the FDJ riders showed great improvement in the time trial and the team is clearly aiming to continue the progress. The team time trial is a big goal for them and it is evident that the signing of Tobias Ludvigsson is part of that ambition. The Swede improved a lot in 2016 and his third place in the Vuelta TT showed how far he has come. As he can also provide some support in the medium mountains, he is a solid support for stage races.


It is unfortunate that the team have lost Alexandre Geniez and Kenny Elissonde who were among the elite climbers in the team. Both are very inconsistent but they showed in the Vuelta that they can climb with the best at the highest level. The team hasn’t found a suitable replacement. Only Rudy Molard has been signed to strengthen the team in the mountains and even though he is a good rider, he is not at the same level.


The greatest addition could be David Gaudu. The Frenchman won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016 and is probably the biggest French climbing talent. He got a lot of attention at a very young age when he posted a time on La Planche des Belles Filles that was better than the one done by Romain Bardet during the Tour de France. He is unlikely to win much in his first year but he is a fantastic addition for the future. The same goes for Leo Vincent who is also one of most exciting young climbers.


They will replace Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier who never fulfilled the potential he showed when he won the junior Worlds in 2011. The Frenchman won’t be riding for the team in 2017 as they seemed to have lost confidence in his talent. Yoann Offredo will also leave the team and that will be a much bigger loss. The Frenchman never turned into the classics rider he had hoped but he was a very valuable domestique for Demare.


What to expect in the classics?

A few years ago, FDJ mainly played a role in the French races while their main mark in the bigger races were stage wins in the grand tours. In recent years, they have made huge progress in stage races, mostly with the emergence of Thibaut Pinot, but the team is still to show themselves consistently in the one-day races. That trend is likely to continue in 2017 as Pinot will be a very prominent figure in the grand tours and one-week races while the team will have a harder time in the classics.


Nonetheless, the team had a big classics breakthrough in 2016 when Arnaud Demare won Milan-Sanremo. The result was a surprise and was a stand-alone performance in a year when the team didn’t show much in the rest of the classics season. As they have done nothing to strengthen their team for those races in 2017, they will again rely heavily on Demare and a bit of luck in one of the big races.


Demare’s best chance will again come at Milan-Sanremo. The Frenchman has proved that he is very fast at the end of a long, hard race and this makes him tailor-made for the Italian classic. However, his poor positioning skills mean that he is very inconsistent in the sprints and he is definitely not a safe bet in the classics. Of course he can win Sanremo again but a repeat performance will still be a big surprise.


Demare will also lead the team on the cobbles where he has shown flashes of potential. However, until now races like Tour of Flanders, E3 and Paris-Roubaix have been too hard for him and nothing suggests that it will change in 2017. He has won Gent-Wevelgem before and the best chance for the team will again be that he can win one of the easier cobbled races. A few years ago, Matthieu Ladagnous did really well in the big races on the cobbles. Unfortunately, he has not been at the same level in the last few years and as Johan Le Bon has never fulfilled his potential, it will be all about Demare in the first part of the classics season.


The team is unlikely to have better chances in the Ardennes. Arthur Vichot has all the characteristics to be a leader in the hilly one-day races. However, the French champion has been hampered by illness and seems to be very fragile. He is still to deliver a big result in the biggest one-day races and at the moment it seems unlikely that he can turn things around in 2017. Anthony Roux showed huge progress with a fantastic showing in the Canadian classics in 2016 and he may carry that momentum into the Ardennes in 2016 which could give them a top 10 finish in a race like Amstel Gold Race. Thibaut Pinot could be competitive in Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege but he seems to have turned his attention away from the classics. With the Giro on his schedule in 2017, it is unlikely that he will do any of the races.


In the autumn, it will be up to Demare to go for another win in Hamburg and a maiden victory in Plouay. In Canada, the team can rely on Vichot and Roux who have both been on the podium in those races. However, their inconsistency means that it is hard to know what to expect. Pinot has been on the podium in Il Lombardia and it is no secret that he has fallen in love with the Italian monument. If RCS come up with a really hard course, another podium or maybe even a win is within reach.


What to expect in the grand tours?

The emergence of Thibaut Pinot as a potential grand tour winner has changed FDJ’s role in the grand tours. However, the team are still hugely dependent on their stage race star and, to a lesser extent, Arnaud Demare. If those two riders have been absent, the team have still been visible with Alexandre Geniez and Kenny Elissonde but when they have been without those four riders, they have been extremely anonymous.


With Geniez and Elissonde leaving the team, FDJ will be even more reliant on Pinot and Demare in 2017. After two years with failed GC campaigns in the Tour de France, Pinot has played with the thought of doing the Giro d’Italia to get back into the rhythm of doing a grand tour fully for the overall standings and he has finally comitted himself to the Italian grand tour. He has also confirmed that he will do the Tour de France with a focus on stage wins.


It is no surprise that Pinot wanrs to do the Giro. The course has a significant amount of hilly time trialling and several stages in the high mountains which suits Pinot down to the ground. At the same time, the Giro is often marred by cold and bad weather and Pinot feels most comfortable in those conditions. Nonetheless, it is a bit of a surprise that the French sponsors have accepted the new plan.


In Italy, Pinot will probably have the entire team at his disposal as the goal must be at least a podium spot. That includes his two faithful lieutenants Steve Morabito and Sebastien Reichenbach and so he will be well supported in the mountains. It is unlikely that there will be any sprinter in the team but there should be some strong guys to support him in the flat stages. Unfortunately, the team is clearly one of his weaknesses. Pinot is strong enough to win the race but if he takes the jersey early in the race, it will be hard for the French squad to suppor their leader.


In the Tour de France, the team will line up both Pinot and Demare, with stage wins being the big goal. Pinot won't focus on the GC and it will be all about repeating his stage win from 2015 and possibly win the mountains jersey. However, he is likely to have to do most of it on his own as the rest of the team will be built around Demare. In 2016, the printer admitted that it made little sense for him to do the Tour alongside Pinot and so he opted for the Giro instead. This year there are no GC ambitions and the team will probably head to France with a full lead-out train to support their fastman. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine that Demare can match the best in the French race where all the fastest guys are present, and it will be a surprise if he comes away with a win.


In the Vuelta, the team will give a chance for Sebastien Reichenbach to be a leader. The Swiss had never done a grand tour with his eye on the GC until he suddenly became a captain in last year's Tour. He did pretty well to finish in the top 15 and now the goal must be a top 10 in Spain. He has improved both his time trialling and climbing a lot and he seems to have reached a level where a top spot is within his reach.


The rest of the team will probably have an opportunistic approac. Demare is unlikely to do the race and this could open the door for young sprinters Lorrenzo Manzin or Marc Sarreau to take their chance. Kevin Reza was also close to a stage win on a number of occasions in 2016 and he must be keen to return to a race that suits him well.


What to expect elsewhere?

With the team they have assembled for 2016, FDJ will be all about Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Demare in 2017 and it will be difficult to achieve results without their two leaders. Most importantly, Pinot has developed into one of the best one-week stage racers in the world. He has turned into one of the best time triallists on hilly courses and those TTs usually play a huge role in the WorldTour stage races of the spring. It is definitely no coincidence that he finished on the podium in the tour 5 in Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tour de Romandie in 2016.


The next logical step for Pinot must be to win one of those races. However, as he plans to go for the Giro, it will be difficult to achieve that goal in 2017 as he can’t race too much in the spring. Tirreno will probably be his only big one-week stage race in the first part of the year but he aims to perform well in Italy where the course suits him pretty well. Apart from that, he will do smaller races like the Volta ao Algarve, Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and maybe the Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino) where he should be in contention for the win. After a hard Giro-Tour double, he will be less prominent in the autumn where the Vuelta is the only stage race that really suits him. He is likely to try to build some condition for Il Lombardia.


Sebastien Reichenbach is likely to have the same schedule as Pinot in the first part of the year so he won’t get many personal opportunities. However, he showed huge progress in 2016 and is ready to ride for himself in the WorldTour stage races. He has improved a lot in the time trials and is an excellent climber. In 2016, he was already close to the top 10 despite working for Pinot and it should be possible for him to take the final step next year.


Demare will have a big focus on the classics and the grand tours but he will also be going for stage wins in WorldTour races like Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse or the Criterium du Dauphiné. Furthermore, he usually rides a lot in France in Coupe de France races and smaller stage races. This year he was consistently beaten by Nacer Bouhanni and Bryan Coquard and unfortunately those riders seem to be faster. However, a reinforced sprint train means that Demare should win more in his home country.


Davide Cimolai gives the team an extra option in the sprints and he could get some chances in the harder WorldTour races like Romandie, Catalunya and Pais Vasco. Lorrenzo Manzin and Marc Sarreau will also get another chance to show that they can be top sprinters but unfortunately nothing suggests that they have the skills to emulate the likes of Bouhanni, Demare and Coquard.


Anthony Roux took a huge step in the autumn and if he can continue that momentum, he could win a lot more in 2017. He climbs well and has a decent sprint which will make him competitive in French and Italian one-day races. The same goes for Arthur Vichot who is excellent in those races if he can avoid his usually health problems. Finally, Tobias Ludvigsson has shown lots of improvement in the time trials and it is about time that he wins a big TT somewhere.


Who’s ready to surprise?

Odd Christian Eiking had a solid introduction to WorldTour racing in 2016 even though he mainly showed himself in the Norwegian races. Now he must be ready to take another step and be in the mix outside his home country. There is little doubt that he has the talent as he is punchy, climbs well and has a decent kick on the line. He is perfectly suited to the hilly one-day races and we are curious to see whether he can be competitive in those races in 2017.


Sebastien Reichenbach is no longer a young talent but his move to FDJ has served him well. He has improved on the climbs and in the time trials but it will be difficult for him to get many personal opportunities in 2017. However, he should continue his progress and if that’s the case, he could get a real breakthrough in the WorldTour races, most notably the Vuelta which will be his big chance.


As said, Tour de l’Avenir winner David Gaudu and Leon Vincent are two of the most talented French climbers and they will be very interesting to follow in their first pro seasons. History shows that it is hard for neo-pros to make an impact already in their first year but they should get opportunities at some points. This year Gaudu showed his class in races like GP Plumelec and the Tour de l’Ain and again those smaller, hilly races in France could be a place for the two talents to test themselves. 



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