Now I’d like to return to a second topic from the interview, namely his time with French team Credit Agricole:
“It [Crédit Agricole] was a team where everyone kinda showed up, did their job and went home. I mean, the communication between the French riders and the foreign riders is really minimal and the environment to really perform was never really there. There was never a pathway saying, ‘If you do this, you’ll do really well’.
“It was Roger [Legeay] saying: ‘We’ve got to do well, hurry up and do well’, and getting really stressed about the results not being there and not defining a clear method to follow to enable us to do well. So it was kind of a stagnant environment – I felt like my last couple of years there was a matter of waiting for my paycheck and the end of every month, and that was the only thing that was making me turn up.”
For me this is a fairly accurate description of many French teams. First the team aspect isn’t always great, despite a homogeneous group of French-speakers, teams often don’t work on the team-building aspect too much. BBox, now Europcar, has seen some great loyalty but at the same time across several of the French teams it is not uncommon to see riders arguing about tactics and a DS or junior manager unable to impose their ideas on the squad.
But the biggest problem is the relentless nature of the French calendar. Riders are dropped into races from the end of January and then it’s full on for a lot of the year. There might be particular objectives for some riders but the idea of dedicating a chunk of the season in order to build up to a target race is very rare. Instead riders are dropped into the Coupe de France series and here the racing is very aggressive from the start. Each team tries desperately to get some of its riders up the road. As a result riders get burnt out from the small races and can be fried before the bigger objectives.
Things are slowly changing. Cofidis in particular has invested in a strong coaching set-up and its riders are being coached by some of the best sports-scientists in France. It’s this coaching aspect that marks the biggest break with Vaughters’ experiences but in general these teams still have room to improve, although they remained constrained by their budgets.