I’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the team’s taking part in this year’s Giro d’Italia – 22 articles covering the Giro’s 22 teams over the course of the 21 stages (and one rest day) of this year’s race.
Each article will cover a team’s sponsors, the squad’s most important rider for the chosen stage, an unsung hero on the team who deserves more attention and the reasons why you may or may not want to barrack for them to succeed.
Today I’m all about the Frenchest of all the French teams in cycling, FDJ. They wear red, white and blue and their Giro team includes riders named Benoit, Olivier and two guys named Arnaud. Allez!
Who are their sponsors? Française des Jeux (French Games), if you want to use its full name, is the French national lottery. They ride French bikes, and 26 of the 29 riders employed by the team are French.
Rider for today’s stage: Today’s seventh stage of the Giro takes the riders on a 210km journey from Sulmona to the town of Foligno.
After yesterday’s stage provided the first serious shakeup to the overall classification, today’s racing should be more relaxed for the general classification contenders. There are only two small climbs on today’s race route, and none within 40km of the finish. With that in mind, I’m selecting FDJ’s sprinter Arnaud Démare as my tip for the stage win.
For a long time, it looked as though Démare wouldn’t be able to confirm the sprinting talent he showed when he took out the under 23 world road race title in 2011.
That changed in a big way this year when he won the one-day classic Milan-Sanremo, becoming the first Frenchman to win one of cycling’s five ‘Monuments’ since Laurent Jalabert in 1997. Démare’s victory was even more notable in that he was held up in a crash with around 30km to go, and had to chase back onto the peloton over the climb of the Cipressa during the frantic final section of the race.
However, almost as soon as Démare crossed the line, doubts started to be raised about the legitimacy of his victory. Italian riders Matteo Tosatto (Tinkoff) and Eros Capecchi (Astana) alleged that Démare been towed up the Cipressa by his team car, and Tosatto went on to give evidence to an investigation into the allegations by the Italian national cycling federation.
For his part, Démare has insisted that “there’s nothing more to say”, and that he just wants to focus on his sprinting at this year’s Giro. He was a clear second behind Marcel Kittel on the first sprint stage in the Netherlands, and followed that up with another second place on Stage 5. He later told the press that while he’s frustrated not to get a win so far, his legs are still in good shape and that he’s confident of future success.
Unsung hero: Only one of the nine riders in FDJ’s team at this year’s Giro has previously won a stage. It’s not Démare – although he boasts 35 professional wins – nor is it four-time Olympian Murilo Fischer, Brazil’s most famous rider. Although Alexandre Geniez finished ninth overall at the Giro last year (and could well finish in the top ten again this year), it’s not him either.
No, the only FDJ rider who’s previously sprayed the winner’s Prosecco is Lithuania’s Ignatas Konovalovas, who won a sodden time trial around Rome on the last day of the 2009 edition while riding for Cervélo Test Team – a day most famous for Denis Menchov’s dramatic crash inside the final kilometre while wearing the pink jersey.
In a lot of other sports, Konovalovas would be considered a journeyman – he joined FDJ this year after having ridden for Movistar, MTN-Qhubeka and third-tier squad Team Marseille 13 KTM in the last five years. His role for FDJ at this Giro will be to shield Démare from the wind on the flatter stages, taking turns on the front of the peloton to bring back the breakaway where necessary,
Team objective: Sprint stage win for Démare are the team’s top priority.
A high placing in the overall classification for Geniez would have been the focus once the road tilted uphill, but he had to abandon the race on stage 5 after a crash, with his only notable contribution to the race being a dust-up with AG2R’s Hubert Dupont after Stage 3.
Instead, they’ll be looking for breakaway success on the race’s hillier days – we’re tipping Olivier Le Gac as their man most likely.
Reason to cheer: Any French team racing outside France often tends to be ignored by the French sporting public, which is a shame when the team boasts genuine talents like Démare. A stage win or two would not only boost the team’s profile at home, but also counter the notion that the Tour de France is the only bike race the French should care about.
Reason to jeer: They’ve broken one of the fundamental rules of decency in cycling – no white lycra shorts. No one will be a fan of them if it rains.