French team FDJ will rejoin the UCI ProTour in 2012. The team received confirmation from the UCI via email this afternoon and the official announcement is expected tomorrow. It matters for a team that has ambitions to grow and to nurture French talent.
It’s obviously good news for the French squad after losing out this time last year. There was a spat over a late paperwork with FDJ saying they sent over details of Anthony Roux’s contract but the UCI reported this was submitted late. As a result Roux’s points did not count and the team dropped out of the top flight.
Does it matter?
I’m in two minds. FDJ are a great, cohesive team but they have not won big. Despite riding many races on the World Tour calendar they didn’t win a single one, although there were several second places. As a French team though they are all but guaranteed a “wildcard” invitation to the Tour de France and other prestigious domestic races like Paris-Roubaix, the Dauphiné or Paris-Nice. So I wonder if spending a lot of money on a licence is worth it given their nationality equates to a golden ticket for July.
On the other hand, the team discovered the downsides of being outside of the ProTour. First, they were looked at as a second division team, obvious really but remember Française des Jeux (FDJ) is the French state lottery and by extension, this is almost the national team. Not like Team Sky is British or Astana is from Kazakhstan but FDJ is closely associated with sport in France. But there were other problems. Next they only got to ride one grand tour, the Tour de France. This meant picking the best nine riders on the squad but the others never got a ride a three week stage race all year. Consequently young riders could not be tested in a big race outside of the Tour de France and more established riders didn’t get the mileage a pro needs in their legs.
FDJ have been sponsoring a team since 1997. The sponsor almost pulled out amidst after doping products were discovered but instead agreed a plan: they would commit to fund a team for the long term if the team management would commit to riding clean. I think it’s worked and can’t remember a rider testing positive. Maybe this is no guarantee but they have some credibility in the bank, remember Philippe Gilbert chose the team as he felt he could develop free from pressure.
Charismatic Marc Madiot has been reaching out to sports scientists in recent years, in particular Dr Frédéric Grappe. This should be turning the team from its band of riders under a father figure into something more sophisticated. With promising riders like Thibaut Pinot, Yoann Offredo and U-23 world champion Arnaud Demare 2012 should be big year.
One final thing to look out for is the sponsor. BigMat is a franchise operation of building materials (think “big materials”) and it has been sponsoring the continental level BigMat-Auber which itself rode the Tour de France in 1996. This sponsorship will continue but the company is expanding into Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Czech Republic and this international aspect is behind the decision to back a team with a reach beyond France. With its ProTour status for 2012, FDJ is exactly that.