2014 Team Previews: Ag2r La Mondiale

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Who are the sponsor? Ag2r are an insurance company that merged with La Mondiale, who offer similar services.

Nationality: French

2013 Ranking: 12th

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Past Stars: Lauren Brochard, Alexandre Vinokourov, Jaan Kirsipuu, Jean-Patrick Nazon, Cyril Dessel, Christophe Moreau, Francisco Mancebo

Selected Team Palmares: Alpe d’Huez Stage, 2013 Tour de France, stage, 2010 Tour de France (Christophe Riblon), 5th, 2013 Giro d’Italia, 3rd, 2013 Fleche Wallone, 4th, 2013 Liege Bastonge Liege (Carlos Betancur), Stage, 2008 Tour de France (Samuel Dumoulin), Stage, 2010 Vuelta a Espana (Yauheni Hutarovitch), Stage, 2012 Giro d’Italia (Domenico Pozzovivio), 8 days in malliot Jaune,¬† 2009 Tour de France (Rinaldo Nocentini)

Brief Team History: Ag2r have been going since 1992, as Chazal, and took the Ag2R name in 1997 before they took over as a title sponsor in 2000. The team has had a dream team of past stars, and always obtained a reasonable degree of success for its investment with Kirsipuu and Nazon winning Tour sprint stages whilst men like Moreau and Mancebo kept them in the TV frame in the mountains. They had a purple patch from 2006 to 2010 at the Tour where they got a day in yellow for Cyril Dessel, who, being French, was thus hyped a bit too much, before stealing the show from the Armstrong/Contador duel by getting Rinaldo Nocentini into yellow for over a week in 2009. This coincided with their change to a divisive new kit with brown shorts, which many seem to be appalled by. Christophe Riblon won a summit finish the following year as the team began to try and diversify its aims, getting a podium at the Giro in 2011 with John Gadret and trying to do better in the classics and anything outside France.

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Last year: Ag2r’s 2013 was sparse in terms of wins, but the quality and aesthetics of those wins were enormously impressive. Christophe Riblon salvaged their and France’s pride with the blue riband stage win on Alpe d’Huez at the Tour, before winning on the Passo Pordoi as well, albeit at the Tour of Poland. Biel Khadri has already won with the Colosseum in the background at Roma Maxima, and Jean-Christope Peraud had won above Toulon on Mount Faron. The low number of wins disguises the quality of their year however. They were second on three Giro stages, 3rd in Paris-Nice, Fleche Wallone, The Tour of Poland and Strade Bianche, and managed to get Betancur to 5th at the Giro and 4th in Liege. They probably would have got a top 10 at the Tour as well if Peraud hadn’t fallen on his already broken collarbone as well. An all around strong year then, aside from the cobbled classics….

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Transfer dealings: …which is why they seem to have poached some of the best French tough men for their own squad. Sebastian Turgot and Damien Gaudin, with 2nd and 5th places in Paris-Roubaix to their names respectively, join the set up, as does German powerhouse Patrick Gretsch. They have lost John Gadret and Valentin Iglinksy, but with their developing youngsters they will probably see themselves as being in a positive balance.

Who are the star riders? Ag2r is essentially a team full of above average if not spectacular Frenchmen, backed up by some slightly better foreigners. Their most marketable asset is Frenchman Christophe Riblon, who can dine out on his Alpe d’Huez success for the rest of his life and is seemingly targeting summit finish breakaways, but Colombian Carlos Betancur appears their best chance of real GC success, although he has issues shall we say with his weight. If he doesn’t perform, they have the pint sized and very classy Italian Domenico Pozzovivo to dance up the climbs, and then they have a backbone of strong Frenchmen who can perform ably in Grand Tours such as Romain Bardet, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Rinaldo Nocentini, although the latter is better at hilly classics. They have an assortments of fastmen in Lloyd Mondory, Yauheni Hutarovitch and Davide Appollonnio, and now have Sebastian Turgot and Damien Gaudin to get them seen on the cobbled classics.

Tour of Poland - Stage Two

Fashion police: Having spent the past 4 years making minor adjustments to the size and number of the logos on the jersey, it now changes to incorporate more of the brown seen on the shorts. Personally I quite like the brown, but I’m in the minority it seems. The shoulders now resemble shoulder pads, but they are one of the more visible teams as a result, although not necessarily for the right reasons.

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What are their targets? Winning more. They have a talented team that just needs a bit of luck and work and it could be a strong outfit. Betancur and Pozzovivo will probably have a shot at the Giro and the Vuelta again, although Betancur’s hilly classics performances suggest he would be better off aiming at those, not that 5th in the Giro was to be sniffed at. Otherwise, the team will want an obligatory stage win at the Tour, and just plenty of exposure in the breakaways it so adores.

What are they likely to achieve? If Betancur can sort his weight out, he could be on for a good year in the hills again, although a breakthrough win looks unlikely given the strength of other teams rostors. Expect pretty much the same as 2013, perhaps with a spell in a leaders jersey somewhere to justify the expense of the sponsor on riders the last couple of years.

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Components: Ag2r ride Focus bikes with Campagnolo parts, and in a kit made by Descente.

The Big Question(s): Can Betancur have a break through year? Will they be content with a Tour stage win to save the season?

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