The Finances of Ag2r La Mondiale

Friday, 16 September 2016

The team’s accounts are available and as well as the dry numbers here’s a closer look at a team that’s been quietly changing its ways in recent years with success to match.

Ag2r La Mondiale’s gross budget for 2015 was €14,336,844, up 5.3% on the previous year’s budget.

As the team publishes its accounts annually we can trace the budget over recent years and the chart above shows a compound growth rate of 11%. How are these millions spent? Here’s the screengrab from the accounts:

The biggest item is wages which is highlighted in red. Loyal readers will remember last July’s look at Team Sky’s accounts and for comparison Sky’s wage bill for the same period was over three times bigger at €24.1 million. In addition the wage bill is compounded by charges sociales, payroll taxes, where the high rates put French teams at a disadvantage to foreign rivals.

The other items are noted but not so clear, Team Sky’s accounts give a line by line breakdown and offer accompanying notes but here we don’t know what the €3 million on autre achats or “other purchases” means. Similarly the various sources of income are not given so we can’t see how much the team gets from Ag2r La Mondiale versus other sponsors, participation fees from races and so on.

One big item sitting in the accounts is the bank guarantee of €2 million. All pro teams have to have one of these as a condition of their UCI licence and it’s effectively a pot of money held in escrow in case the team vanishes leaving riders with unpaid wages. It’s a good idea but it represents a lot of capital tied up. If Ag2r La Mondiale was a new team starting today it would have to add the €2 million UCI guarantee on top of its €14.3 million annual budget, a notable hurdle to clear.

The Bardet Effect: A lot of this change is down to Romain Bardet. Watch the sport on TV and you might know him for his wild attacks downhill, a racer and a raider. All true but off the bike he’s a thinker. It’s difficult to pin a person down with a few adjectives and Bardet apparently dislikes being labelled as an intello or intellectual merely because he’s completed a business degree but his perfectionist attitude has seen him become a lot more demanding of his entourage and team. It was only a couple of years ago that Bardet was buying his own powermeters – plural – and driving down to the Sierre Nevada with his father and a sheaf of sports science journals on altitude training. Now he expects the team to work with him on this. They’ve gone from having no coaching staff to three in the space of a couple of years. They picked up Jean-Baptiste Quiclet who used to coach the Sojasun team and Quiclet now manages the coaching staff, nutritionists and others. Like Sky? Yes but on a much smaller scale but even tiny changes can have a big effect, for example they changed tyre sponsors in search of better performance rather than chasing the highest bidder.

There’s still some way to go and there are massive gains rather than marginal ones to go and get. Last winter Bardet went to a windtunnel, an initiative that he and his agent Joona Laukka paid for themselves even if the team’s been for sessions before. According an article in the print version of L’Equipe Bardet saw that his power in the Stage 20 time trial of the Tour de France was similar to Tejay van Garderen but they were separated by over two minutes on the day so if Bardet can work on his position then he can get much faster. Having seen his upright position in this year’s Tour de France there’s some more work to be done.

Romain Bardet time trial CLM

The link to the finances is that all this spend on backroom staff costs money so the team’s budget has risen consequentially. Bardet isn’t behind everything, the team management themselves seem concious of the need to adjust. Lloyd Mondory’s EPO bust in 2015 made him the first rider ever to get a four year ban but also jolted the team. They hired ex-pro and former UCI official Philippe Chevallier as the team’s manager to provide more operational oversight and allow long time manager Vincent Lavenu to take a step back. Sponsor Ag2r La Mondiale, a health and social insurance mutual, seems only too willing to support all of these changes.

It has now backed the team since 1999 and has committed to fund the team until 2020 which allows the team to sign riders on a long term basis, Bardet for example is on a four contract, otherwise unheard of in pro cycling and the team signed Pierre Latour as a neo-pro on a three year deal when two is the norm. The sponsor seems delighted and every year puts out a press release proclaiming the vast value they derive in sponsoring a team. This is good for them but applies because they’re a French team in a sport dominated by a giant French race, the mouthwatering numbers don’t translate directly for other corporate sponsors. Bardet himself is part of this value:

The hegemonic train of Sky annihilated all attempts at a breakaway

That’s the team leader describing how hard it was to breakaway during the Tour de France. As Liberation, a French newspaper, remarked he could just have said “We can’t do anything as Sky are so strong” but his linguistic register appeals to sections of the media looking for original quotes.

So far so Bardet but the team isn’t built around him in the same way Cofidis surrounds Nacer Bouhanni or even FDJ pin their hopes on Thibaut Pinot. Alexis Vuillermoz and Pierre Latour are being nurtured. If Jean-Christophe Péraud has just retired then in come Mathias Frank, Alexandre Geniez and Stijn Vandenbergh. There’s a pipeline too from Chambéry Cyclisme Formation, literally “Chambéry Cycling Training”, an U23 development squad based in the Alpine town of Chambéry. It is closely linked to the pro team and this allow it to attract talent from France and beyond. There’s now a conveyor belt of riders that’s gone from Bardet to Latour and several others. A requirement of the team is that the rider must continue their studies, up to them whether they want to pursue management or plumbing but they have to attend classes regularly to have a place on the team.

Conclusion
€14 million Euros and only eight wins this year. The team struck gold in the Tour de France with Romain Bardet’s audacious attack and podium finish and this is a team made for July; even the classics contenders are presumably hired for their ability to double as bodyguards for the flat stages of the Tour or locomotives for a team time trial. Money matters and the increased budget at Ag2r La Mondiale accompanies their transformation from breakaway cannon-fodder to Tour de France podium residents. Is the spending worth it? Yes says the sponsor but the team are still mid to low spenders in the World Tour and have to allocate resources accordingly but that’s fine for them, the title sponsor’s market is France. Slowly the foundations are going in to underpin this kind of result and deliver more.

  • Exchange rates at 31 December 2015: €1.00 = US$ 1.11 = £0.84
  • Thanks to reader Nicolas for sending a scanned copy of the accounts.
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Anonymous September 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Very interesting. Always enjoy these peeks behind the curtains.

Wigmanreturns September 16, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Great read, I’ve only been properly following cycling since 2012 but have been lucky to watch Bardet and his team rise. Hopefully they can be a real force in the next year or two.

Mick Prendas Ciclismo September 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Despite only 8 wins, the team are great entertainment value in just about everything they ride. With long serving J C Peraud retiring and Pierre Latour upcoming, they promise to make a bigger impression next season.
They will have a new clothing sponsor too and good news for brown bib shorts fans, they will remain as part of the kit!

Tim September 16, 2016 at 4:49 pm

That’s a road bike outfitted with TT bars. If they want to start looking at gains, there’s the obvious place to look. As I understand (likely back from reading this blog), Focus doesn’t offer the biggest range of TT bikes, so the smaller riders have to opt for this hybrid of sorts.

Not that it would have changed the TdF result this year, but it can’t be helping either and sets him at a disadvantage in the TTs to come

gabriele September 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Who’d be the smaller riders, in this case? Isn’t it Bardet the cyclist in the ITT photo? And that’s no small size frame, anyway. At least a 56, I’d say, although it’s difficult to tell from a photo.

Rod September 16, 2016 at 6:45 pm

This year’s TdF main TT was not a straightforward affair. Many riders opted for non-TT frames.

Froome (sky) – full TT rig inc. disc rear and trispoke.
Thomas (Sky) -Road bike with aerobars., medium depth wheels.
Dumoulin (Giant) – TT frame, shallow rims.
Mollema (Trek) – Road frame, disc rear, aerobar clip-ons.
Porte (BMC) – Road bike with clip-ons.
Purito (Katusha) – Bike switch! TT bike at the start, lightweight road for the climb.
Quintana (Movistar) – TT bike, shallow wheels.

And so on. Even the choice of helmet was very varied. There was nothing obvious about the choice of equipment for that tricky stage!

Punter September 17, 2016 at 6:26 am

Small equipment correction on Froome, inc. magneto hybrid disc rear

Samuel September 17, 2016 at 9:53 am

I think my favourite set up was Louis Meintjes – Road bike with full TT front end

Larry T September 16, 2016 at 9:22 pm

14 million for a lower level pro squad? When will pro cycling get to that “Holy S__t! It costs way-too-much to sponsor a pro team!” moment? Crazy costs plague F1 and MotoGP and a first step to control costs would be to simply do away with all this chrono-specific stuff. The teams seem to do just fine in the fly-away “sandbox” races where these bikes are banned to save money – why not save money on ALL the events? How many of these goofy things are really sold to the punters anyway compared to a standard road bike which can be used for so much more. Even if you let ’em throw a disc wheel and the “aero” bar extensions (King Larry would ban those too!) on their standard road frames, getting rid of chrono-specific machines would be a good first step in cost-control.

CA September 16, 2016 at 9:55 pm

I totally agree – cycling should be about the rider, not turning into a F1.

I want these guys on aluminum 20lb whips with box set wheels.

The reason I want it is because if you lower the cost to enter the sport for the amateurs you’ll attract the world’s best athletes. Rather, cycling attracts the world’s best RICH/upper middle class athletes – which means that many of the world’s best athletes will never race the World’s.

I ask this question, compare the world’s top endurance athletes (marathon runners perhaps?) to the best cyclists. Who really is the best? Let’s take the world’s top endurance athletes and cyclists back to when they started competing as juniors and put them in the same sport – who would be the best? Obviously this is impossible to solve, but I would think that the cost of entering cycling has eliminated many potentially great cyclists.

Compare the cost of entering amateur cycling now to when Eddy Merckx entered. It’s probably a lot more expensive now and definitely prohibitive to poorer kids.

Larry T September 16, 2016 at 10:49 pm

The IOC at one time had a mission-statement of sorts about equipment costs, but that’s gone I guess along with their spine, as the state-sponsored doping fiasco with the Russians shows. I think there’s merit in trying to demonstrate that nobody needs a $15K machine to compete. I think one can buy a perfectly serviceable, full carbon bicycle to race on for $2K or less, no? Cheap enough the UCI could give away a whole bunch of ’em to underdeveloped cycling countries – probably getting one of the big bike brands to cut ’em a smokin’ deal in exchange for some PR bennies. I understand all the tech heads fascination and lust for the big money equipment fueled by the bike industry sponsors who profit from same. And of course (thank gawd) you still gotta pedal ’em but is it in the sports best long-term interest to allow unlimited expenditures on the newest-latest when the cost to field a competitive team under “Heinie’s Folly” is already too damn high?

BC September 17, 2016 at 9:53 am

“Is it in the sports best long term interest to allow unlimited expenditure on the newest-latest”

Almost certainly NOT. The cost of overpriced bike equipment will eventually prove to be a serious deterrent for the grass roots of the sport, let alone WT teams. As Larry says, for under $2000 you can purchase a bike good enough to compete, without any noticeable competitive loss.

gabriele September 17, 2016 at 2:09 am

I get your point and partially share your view about athletic talent (less so some details of the part about equipment).

That said, and here I’m starting some wild guessing for fun’s sake (experts can prepare themselves for tomato throwing…), probably few top marathon riders would get decent results in cycling and perhaps several of them would struggle to comply with the time cut all the way through to the end of a stage race.
Some power peaks are required not to lose wheels in key moments, and once you lose the wheels you could well be gone for good. Cycling is about notable, repeated – and sometimes chaotically distributed – power peaks in the context of an endurance effort which may be highly variable along the hours, or from day to day, depending on race circumstances.

The marathon clearly presents some variability due to race tactics, but I’d say it’s a bit more similar to a *very large* ITT or a *very large* single climb.

I’d dare to say that some high-level cyclists (the ones with an appropriate combination of muscle fibers) could get decent results running, after a proper training, even if hardly, I suspect, top results.

Some trainers say that cycling can be more similar to cross-country skiing, trail running / mountain running or even… football (!).

Again, I write this just as a curiosity and it’s a field I don’t know in detail; it’s a separate matter from the fact, on which I’d tend to agree, that cycling might be losing potential talents because the youngsters prefer something else (or just… don’t want to pay in order to be hired ^__^).

Nico September 17, 2016 at 10:03 am

Attracting the rich middle class athletes? In the UK or US perhaps but certainly not in France.

One of the enduring memories from my time racing in the amateur divisions in France was seeing the plethora of old, plain white Renault or Citroen vans with a couple of racing bikes in the boot and a grizzled, race-garden father giving tips to his son/daughter. Definitely not a middle class sport at that level.

Agree that when I rode the Marmotte cyclo, the BMW/Audi SUV quota shot up dramatically.

Alex September 17, 2016 at 6:43 am

It sounds easy to do away with TT bikes as a cost saving, but it’d be a false economy.

All that will happen is the effort and $ will move into making road bikes and road bike set ups as speed effective as possible for the TT stages and you’ll just end up with road bikes specifically set up for TTs. Special geometries, special frame shapes, special road bars, special saddles, integrated this and that, hidden braking set ups, dedicated wheels, helmets, laser scanned aero optimised customised skinsuits, rider positioning aero testing work, and so on and so on. Many features you may not use in a road race for various reasons but would be ideal for TT solo rider event. You can spend just as much time and effort doing aero refinement on a road bike as on a TT bike.

As for the market, one of the big market segments for bike sales are triathletes.

Larry Theobald September 17, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Alex – King Larry would prevent all that with the ban on chrono machines so it would be far from false economy. How much space do these things take up in the team truck(s)? How much do they cost the sponsors to provide? How many extra (and special) components (and spares) must be procured and hauled around to support them? The competitor would be required to ride the same bike he/she used in the rest of the event with at worst (for me as I’d like to see that stuff go away too) “aero” bars attached and perhaps a disc/aero wheelset. No pointy crash hats or any of that stuff you listed. As I pointed out, the teams flying off to the “sandbox classics” seem to have no problem racing without these costly, almost useless machines. As to the “big” triathlete market, do they REALLY sell a lot of these things to those folks – and more importantly, does this really matter? That sport could adopt similar rules to keep the costs down for their competitor/customers too. This would just be the start of cost-control measures – one that really would not affect the outcomes of the stage races one bit except for the costs.

Larry T September 17, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Ooops! Google strikes again with the name thing, sorry. It’s Larry T above.

Dave September 17, 2016 at 7:28 pm

“As to the “big” triathlete market, do they REALLY sell a lot of these things to those folks – and more importantly, does this really matter?”

https://www.cervelo.com/en/about/history

And as far as Boardman is concerned it’s their shop window, UK Triathletes including the Brownlee brothers are about the only people paid to ride Boardman bikes.

browny September 17, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Larry, obviously you have never seen to a triathlon Aus style. It is quite a scene! Plenty of people trying to buy their way to a better result. Any plenty out on weekends ‘training’.

Always amuses me as surely a road bike is so much more versatile and comfortable choice for someone who’s a casual participant.

Although the mtb scene is really no different. So many old slow guys with so much carbon.

Alex September 18, 2016 at 12:05 am

Effort and $ by those with the resources and the smarts will still go into finding every gain possible *no matter the restrictions that are placed on the equipment*.

Simply changing the bike reg rules won’t stop this. It’s inevitable for the one simple reason: Physics. Air resistance makes up close to 90% of the energy demand for flatter time trials.

The only way to stop $ spent on refinements for TTs is for there to be no TTs. Such refinement still matter in road racing of course, but it’s influence on the outcome is lessened in mass start events where strategic and tactical elements play a much greater role.

Bilmo September 17, 2016 at 10:08 am

I know the full costs are not broken down but I should think bringing a TT bike to races is not a big cost (especially when offset by the contribution from bike suppliers). As stated by others you would still have teams bringing extra road bikes just set up differently.
As I see it the biggest saving to a team would be less riders. This would come about if they didn’t have to compete in so many races at the same time. There would also be associated reduction in travel cost.
I would think more smaller teams would spread the talent around and make the cost of a squad smaller.

Larry T September 17, 2016 at 7:59 pm

No question on this point – it’s what I refer to as “Heinie’s Folly” aka World/Pro/Whatever-it-is-this season Tour.

CA September 16, 2016 at 4:56 pm

Really interesting piece Inrng. Based on AG2R’s longevity, sponsorship stability and rider development (along with education requirement for their feeder team) this is the ideal team structure for the World Tour.

It would be interesting to see competitive measures being introduced to pro cycling that would result in some type of a salary cap to level the playing field.

Obviously a salary cap is very unlikely to be introduced anytime soon. However, the silver lining is that this low-budget team’s sponsor has publicly declared how this sponsorship has added value to their core business model.

Does anyone have any idea how much money AG2R makes before tax each year? It’d be interesting to find some way to quantify the value that this cycling team adds to the sponsor. I don’t think AG2R is public (or on Wikipedia, haha) so it is harder to find financial information.

Ecky Thump September 16, 2016 at 5:18 pm

I was just looking at La Mondiale’s 2014 accounts actually, and they report a net profit of €260 million for that financial year.
Compare it to the Sky group, who reported a net profit of £1.9 billion in 2015 (if I’ve read that right).

Ag2R are a huge group actually, with €billions of assets, though much of their business seems to be tied up in longer-term investments. But this long=term approach makes them a reliable sponsor for their cycling team.

CA September 16, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Ecky – thanks for getting that. Regarding assets tied up in long-term investments – that’s consistent with insurance companies and I agree with you – it definitely leads to reliability.

I would wonder if the team’s organisations should form a working group that searches for sponsors to replace outgoing sponsors. My impression is that each team works on its own to find sponsors when one leaves, and nobody has yet had any type of collaborative approach to this.

gabriele September 16, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Interesting idea, since I think that one of the biggest problem for cycling is that each team’s management relies on their personal contact and networking skills to get the sponsors on board. It’s as if being a cycling manager meant – way more than *managing a team* – being a fund raising *splinter cell*.
I was commenting about that when I noticed the strong difference you typically could notice between Italian cycling sponsors (when you had them), even in the golden age itself of Italian cycling, and most sponsors from other countries.
The “who’s the socioeconomic cluster of cycling public?” theory by inrng works pretty well, in general, but failed to explain a significant part of Italian cycling sponsorships: in Italy it was more about the social context of the sponsors themselves…
The province, rural areas now devoted to small industry, family business, local manufacture… Italian cycling managers are (or were) very often more used to speak to this kind of people than to banks, or big insurance, telecom, media, energy companies.
On the contrary, RCS, a media business, proves itself more apt when talking with the above is concerned.

CA September 16, 2016 at 7:25 pm

Exactly, I completely agree. The socioeconomics of cycling is vastly changing and from this change the team structure and how the teams develop their future revenue sources needs to change. We’re starting to see teams adapting, for example Lampre getting swallowed up by the Bahrain sponsor. However, what we don’t see is a collaborative effort on the funding model.

Other professional sport structures collaborate when it comes to developing a funding model, but then compete all-out in the sporting arenas. Cycling, in my opinion, has one of the hardest times of all sports developing stable revenue, and therefore teams need to work together the most. Also, if this was the case, then team managers can focus on running the teams. Of course, team managers who do have strong business connections can of course help – but the understanding should be that the teams help each other.

Obviously, my suggestion is merely a beginning framework. So, which team wants my help to set this up? haha. Gabriele, are you on board?

Ecky Thump September 16, 2016 at 8:17 pm

Interesting points you both raise about sponsorship.
It’s reported today that HSBC are replacing Sky as the prime sponsor of British Cycling. A huge multinational coming in.
Contrast this with the struggles that Europcar had in finding a new sponsor and their subsequent move down to the Pro Conti level and the resistance of Madiot to the proposed UCI calendar.
Is French cycling on the up, or are they satisfied with second best these days?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that FDJ and Ag2r have remained committed to French cycling, but is it self-limiting?
If their interests are purely French in outlook, do they resist outside influence and change?
Can you see a French team winning the TdF anytime?

Ecky Thump September 16, 2016 at 8:49 pm

By which I also meant, can they draw enough finance in to compete, never mind be a leader?

CA September 16, 2016 at 9:47 pm

Definitely that’s the question.

The traditional cycling nations have taken a backseat to the big budget teams from non-traditional cycling nations over the past 2 decades. Whether it was Telekom, US Postal/Discovery or Sky/BMC/etc. many (but definitely not all) of the publicity and major wins have left the traditional cycling powers.

The one thing to say on this, and this isn’t conclusive, but the French cycling scene has seemed to stay extremely strong in the face of the overall power shift. Today’s Inrng blog is absolute proof of this. You have a very financially secure sponsor confirming how much value they generate from their sponsorship. Then, the team they sponsor has shown strong signs of life over the past few seasons and holds promise for the future. Further, they’re starting to compete at the largest race on the planet (which also happens to be in France) with some very strong up and coming French riders. Plus, the overall opinion of French riders is that they are clean.

Overall, on the anecdotal evidence of this story alone, it appears that French riding has turned the corner and has returned to relevance. It felt like France was really struggling into the early 2010’s.

At the same time, races in France have always maintained strong viewership IN FRANCE… and the French really never seemed to be bothered about US, Canadian, British, Aussie, etc. viewers of their races. So, even if France isn’t winning the Tour in 2, or even 10 years, I feel like financially they’re the most secure of all of the teams.

Compare this to Team Sky – who is sponsored by a guy who’s paying for a hobby team. If Murdoch changes his valuation of the team, or he gets hit by Brexit, he might do exactly what Oleg did and bounce permanently from the sport. In this way, France cycling teams appear to be way less risky. Many of the French sponsors haven’t changed in decades (Cofidis, FDJ, AG2R, etc.).

But, you’ve brought up a good point, and in terms of winning the TdF, major monuments (this year’s MSR was a fluke win), etc. the French teams definitely aren’t at that point just yet. They appear to be at peace with this though.

Ferdi September 16, 2016 at 6:16 pm

I wouldn’t thave found this information anywhere, so big thanks. I’m surprised that the company seems so pleased. I would have thought that, having had two major doping cases lately (Mondory, Georges), they would be a little upset, and asking questions. Hiring a guy from the UCI staff in response will raise some eyebrows, but I tend to see Chevallier as a sound man.

gabriele September 16, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Doping has always been a good excuse to leave when you’re not winning or when you’ve reached your exposure goals: just look at the number of teams who are now leaving without any need of doping scandals… we’re living one of the calmest period in decades in that sense.
Most sponsors are in fact quite happy with a good doping policy in order to grant results. The health of the athletes never was among the sponsors’ priorities. Not to speak of the whole thing of cheating… we’re speaking of capitalist companies, after all, cheating is one of their core values.

Larry T September 16, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Too few in this sport have any sort of long-term view. The fight for sponsors is looked at as a zero-sum game, I can’t see anyone working together on this. It’s the same in the bike tour biz – too many are trying to grab a larger slice of the existing pie instead of working to make the pie larger. This was proven when I spoke with a bike mag/public relations/advertising guru about a bike tour promotion along the “Got Milk?” line many years ago. He thought it was a great idea but nobody other than yours truly was willing to contribute to the cost of the ads. They all expressed reservations about paying for advertising that might benefit a competitor instead of themselves. Pro cycling teams are no different.

Neuron1 September 17, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Gabriele, Cheating is a core value of all people/organizations/governments that rise to the top, regardless of economic structure. Do you really think the Mullahs/Prime Ministers/Presidents/Chairmen/place any government leader here, got there by being upright “law abiding” citizens. And do you think that any of us is anything but cannon fodder, in the right circumstance, in they eyes of their government? I seriously doubt it. Athletes are just a more public representation, but they get chewed up and spit out like the rest of us “citizens”. Sport is politics by another means, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewicz.

GB September 16, 2016 at 8:07 pm

If AG2R have been around since just after the 1998 TdF they probably have accounted for the risk of having doping positives and could absorb the hits to their reputation from those two cases. Maybe if they happened around July or if they involved Bardet they’d be less happy. But as it is I bet that among AG2R’s potential client base, far more people know of Bardet’s success than they know about Georges or Mondory.

Ecky Thump September 16, 2016 at 8:20 pm

It depends if they’re un particulier or un professionnel perhaps? 🙂

GB September 16, 2016 at 8:40 pm

I wouldn’t rule it out, but aren’t the sponsors insurance companies? Those don’t have a reputation for being un-particular 😛

GB September 16, 2016 at 8:29 pm

I don’t mean this in as grim a way as gabriele’s comment (though it can be read as such if you like).

In any case, just because the sponsor is happy now, doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t slam dunk the team like a basketball on fire after 2020 if anyone else tests positive…

Anonymous September 16, 2016 at 10:36 pm

This is not meant to offend. This is my opinion:

Personally I would wish this comment section would finally be closed. The cycling knowledgeable people with a broader view, open mind and understanding all have gone silent and/or left and this has totally tipped the scale. Leaving some strange and partly even dangerous views here that get then trumpeted out in the world as truths. I sometimes read it, cause it is good to know, what is up in other parts of the world, but I regret it deeply every time. I wouldn’t comment and just keep on staying silent like the rest that has left here, if the comments of this and the last piece wouldn’t have been so insular. And respectless.

To put some perspective into this for some: For example in the year 2000 AG2R was among the best teams in the world http://autobus.cyclingnews.com/results/2000/jan00/jan31news.shtml They are not some “small team coming up”, learning the business.

Not everybody aspires to be like sky, in fact many aspire to be exactly the opposite. Success has many faces. It isn’t only about being better than everybody else, no matter the means. Success can be: having young people come into cycling. Keeping the sport meaningful in your region. Keeping your riders healthy and don’t leave them with psychological diseases when they retire and are of no use to you anymore. Having a conscience and not spin nonsense like a quack. Success can be not bullying your riders. Furthering the one’s who are a bit different in a way they need to be furthered and not throw them away, because another one is easier to manipulate. Doing things the right way.

And to some a top 5 place done with integrity&honour is even more worth than winning at all cost and playing the poor fools on the tv screens. Take Peter Sagan: Sure, he likes to win, it’s his job – but it by far isn’t the most important thing for him. This has cost him a few wins. And that is fine. Life and success is more than that. It is more than just being better than others. Indeed, if that is your sole purpose, the sole reason for being, it is a poor life and will one day eat you up and burn you out.

Sorry, can’t say it differently (and although I rather would not say unnice things – I don’t like conflicts, – my conscience forbids me to stay silent this time). I of course accept and understand, that most here will see or pretend to see it differently (it is so convenient to call people with different opinions trolls).

steveh September 16, 2016 at 11:38 pm

That’s a bizarre thing to post without telling us who you are – do you mind coming clean?
If not, I’ll just ignore this.
Steve

Larry T September 17, 2016 at 2:04 am

Same s__t, different day. If the person lacks the cojones to put a name on their opinion, I scroll right past their posts, though I read the others, even the ones with authors I know I’m not likely to agree with. It’s the community, right? Like sitting in a bar talking cycling with a bunch of guys you’re familiar with and some person wearing a mask comes in and starts running his/her mouth.

factoid September 17, 2016 at 6:32 am

Can you offer some specifics as to what commentary is not being offered “by cycling knowledgeable people” as well as “dangerous views?” Examples please. I am not understanding the point(s). Thanks

GB September 17, 2016 at 11:03 am

I don’t blame you for staying anonymous cos I know people hold really pointless vendettas sometimes. I’m also curious about what you took issue with, though.

Neuron1 September 17, 2016 at 6:58 pm

Anon: Your points are well taken, and clearly meant to be constructive, but this comment section is much friendlier/less aggressive than some others, such as CN. There, if you don’t tow the Sky/Anglo party line you are attacked mercilessly and good arguments are drowned out by the loudmouthed, small minded haters. Here there is generally good, logical debate where knowledge of bike racing is respected and appreciated. I might not always agree with fellow commenters but at least they are usually reasonable and anyone can make their points. I think you should repost this at CN where it may cause some folks to stop and think, but I doubt it. BTW Mr. Inrng does an amazing job at analysis and predicting race outcomes.

Dave September 17, 2016 at 7:48 pm

I would agree that the comments here are FAR more measured and informed than on any other cycling blog or site I’ve seen (quality attracts quality), and the few people that possibly have agendas or strong biases have detractors who call them out on it. We may see the odd lengthy to-and-fro between a couple of regulars now and again but even that is usually well argued, and that’s far more preferable to the infantile bickering and repetitive “doper” content elsewhere.

Neuron1 September 17, 2016 at 9:55 pm

+1

jollygoodvelo September 19, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Agreed – I don’t ever read below the line on any other website (especially CN – there are still people who think the Texan was innocent!).

Craig September 17, 2016 at 12:26 am

It’s good to see the long term support that AG2R put in, do they also organise ‘AG2R Ride’ events the week after the TDF with appearances from top riders in major French cities to promote their insurance policies? In a question of maximising benefit from sponsorship from cycling Sky have led the way in realising there is more than hoping someone takes a picture of your rider for the sports page of the newspaper and they own 2 major newspapers in the UK, one of which has quite rightly taken Lance Armstrong to the legal cleaners.

If the French really want a domestic TdF winner though, they really need to find a major French company L’Oreal, Peugeot, Citroen, EDF, Thales who are willing to put up the 25M a year to hire Bardet and the million euro domestiques Sky are paying for. Currently it seems more likely for a second major British company or perhaps a Dutch/German one to step up than a French one.

Reb Cole September 17, 2016 at 12:40 am

Anonymous,
I have been a reader and follower of this blog site for 5 years.
Only twice have i left a comment.
I LOVE IT. and the comment section is also great . I LOVE IT.
Please don’t suggest , for some reason that is really obtuse and confusing,
that ” this comment section be closed ” and that “cycling knowledgeable
people all have left :” That IMHO is no way near the truth.
Please Mr. INRNG, pay no heed to Anonymous’s thoughts here.

The Inner Ring September 17, 2016 at 11:57 am

It’s ok, people can have different views and takes on things and debate is healthy, as long as people share views rather than get too stubborn.

Anonymous September 17, 2016 at 7:01 am

as a condition of their UCI licence and it’s effectively a pot of money held in escrow in case the team vanishes leaving riders with unpaid wages. It’s a good idea but it represents a lot of capital tied up.

I’d like to know how often the UCI has paid riders on a failed team. This was one of Floyd Landis’ “bone to pick” with the UCI. http://cyclocosm.com/2011/02/raw-documents-the-verbruggenlandis-exchange/

Floyd’s lawyer’s communication with the UCI: I was told there was no one who can tell me the current situation

Cha-ching!!

Nico September 17, 2016 at 10:10 am

That’s the whole point of escrow, it isn’t held by the UCI.

The Inner Ring September 17, 2016 at 11:58 am

Exactly, it’s held by a bank and can be released on specific circumstances, the UCI can help trigger it but the money is not paid to the UCI nor managed by it.

DJW September 17, 2016 at 8:48 am

An interesting article, with the reader comments ,as always, adding a lot. If anonymous wants the comments part to be closed why does he read and participate?

Curious to compare the French big two with FDJ considered by the non-specialist French press and blog comments to have had a poor season despite 21 wins including a monument, while AG2R, with only 8 wins are considered a success. Why? Firstly, second overall and a stage in the Tour for Bardet while Pinot failed for FDJ. Also French cycling is quite self-contained with even regional races often getting more coverage than overseas WT events. The Tour has no rival. Secondly, Bardet is seen as decent and likeable as is the team. Image is hard to create but is maybe as important as victories.

The Inner Ring September 17, 2016 at 12:01 pm

It shows the value of the Tour de France, Pinot has had his best ever season… until July, a lot of high places in the stage win and a win in Tirreno-Adriatico was on the cards too, plus a time trial win ahead of Dumoulin in Romandie only to fade for the Tour de France. Bardet by contrast was chasing his tale for much of the first half of the year, sick in Romandie and posting messages on Facebook along the lines of “things not working out as I want, hoping for better days”.

Michael B September 17, 2016 at 9:02 am

Great piece as always and many informative comments too. I’ve always had a soft spot for AG2R and it’s good to see they have their own ethos within the team, right down to encouraging riders’ professional development away from cycling.

In terms of their riders I think Alexis Gougeard is worth a mention too – he was very impressive at Omloop earlier this season and at last year’s Vuelta. Always seems willing to roll the dice with a long range attack. Here’s hoping a few more of them pay off next year.

The Inner Ring September 17, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Another promising rider but taking his brute force to the next step is harder, he is very strong in a breakaway but likes to attack because he hates racing in the peloton, the elbowing and rubbing shoulders etc.

Michael B September 17, 2016 at 11:06 pm

Interesting that he dislikes the rough & tumble of the peloton. Raw power, as you say, my main worry about him was that he sometimes burned energy on possibly futile attacks, but then again that’s part of the job description for a breakaway/Classics specialist. You can only do “epic” if you’re willing to do futile, ultimately.

gabriele September 17, 2016 at 3:15 pm

CA wrote: “The traditional cycling nations have taken a backseat to the big budget teams from non-traditional cycling nations over the past 2 decades. Whether it was Telekom, US Postal/Discovery or Sky/BMC/etc. many (but definitely not all) of the publicity and major wins have left the traditional cycling powers”.

Speaking of recent years, you clearly forgot Astana, which follows a similar pattern: also note that, except BMC, the projects you name often had a nationalistic approach implying strong collaborations with different kinds of public subjects). Note that Katusha, too, got some big triumphs, even if not as many (and essentially in the Monuments).

And, in terms of nationalit of the teams, I’d say that not only France but also Belgium goes on pretty well, both in numbers and sustainability of a nice pyramid of teams.

Now, if you’ve got the – huge – patience to follow me further, I’ll try to point out a little paradox.

What’s curious is that – for the period you name and until now – the main effect has concerned the nationality of the team much more than the nationality of the riders.

When we focus on national shift, there’s only been a very significative raising tide for the Aussies in the Classics, where you can see victories and podia blossoming here and there through the Monuments, with a variety of riders (however, something quite far from what you’d call a domination: still, a very clear trend). And that went along with the fine results in stage and one-day racing by a special champion, Evans.
Given that I’d include Wiggins, Hesjedal and Horner in the *odd victories* list which can bless whatever country (like doing a Petterson, a Hampsten, a Riis or a Wolfshohl – no offense intended), all the rest is really about Armstrong and Froome… and essentially in the TdF, when if you speak of winning… I think that they both can be defined as quite peculiar cases (for different reasons).
I’m convinced that the UK might raise soon to the level of Australia, as a movement, since they’been doing a great work as a Federation: I expect that Thomas or the Yates will end up adding something big. On the contrary, it would remain a limited phenomenon, like the USA appearance proved to be in the middle-term.

Obviously, it’s quite hard to formulate a general theory when, for example, Italy has been having a drought in the Classics in the last ten years (not twenty) while at the same time having, during the same ten years, a favourable moment in the sector of GTs which, on the contrary, suffered from an especially difficult phase between 1998 and 2005 (quite parallel to the Armstrong effect on the Giro).
All in all, Italy is living a way better *couple of decades* when the TdF is involved than the era it lived between Gimondi (first half of the Seventies) and Bugno, Chiappucci or Pantani (Nineties).
Spain, on the contrary, has been holding firmly its absolute superiority in stage racing until the present day, and it has also become – something different from the past – a raising power in one-day racing.

I’m always speaking of riders, since, as I said, you’re absolutely right when we speak of teams. Only Liquigas in Italy, winning a couple of GTs and getting some three GT podia in the five years… before shutting up – and the Unzué structure in Spain could achieve some big results, comparatively few in numbers against the general results of riders of that same nationality.

Now, and I’m finally getting to the point, if you look to results along the last two decades which CA named, I’d say that if the riders of some *new countries* got their share of big victories, that was parallel to a reduction mainly focused on French riders, and on Belgian ones, to a lesser scale.
In the Sanremo Démare might have changed the trend, but between 1999 and 2016 you had no French nor Belgian victories. A pre WWII situation! The Ronde perhaps changed the least, and yet since 1994 you’ve got a lesser share of Belgian victories than in the previous history of the race (the French never were very good, here). What about the Roubaix? The French disappeared, and despite Boonen or Museeuw, long gone are the times when only the odd Italian or Dutch rider (or Kelly) would break the French-Belgian domination: 1985-1997, all French or Belgian victories, except one for Ballerini and one for Kelly; 1952-1977, Belgian domination, besides two French, two Dutch and one Italian. The Liège: no French winner since Hinault, only one Belgian in the last 17 years. Lombardia: one French victory and two by Gilbert in 25 years, while 1979-1990 saw 4 French wins and 1968-1980 saw 7 Belgian wins.
No need to speak of GTs… no French win whatsoever in 20 years, no Belgian ones in 30 years. *Historically*, France and Belgium are the 2nd and 3rd most GC winning countries for the Vuelta (after Spain, before Italy); for the Giro, Belgium is 2nd after Italy and France is 4th after Spain; they’re 1st and 2nd (before Italy) when we speak of the Tour!!!

The switch is huge, and it makes quite clear that Belgium and France were the countries which conceded *winning space* in the last two decades (other traditional countries, on a minor scale, might be considered, in no particular order: the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Colombia, Russia, Germany, Ireland… besides not having much to cede, they haven’t *proportionally* been on the back foot in the last 20 years, quite the contrary I’d say!!!).

Now, I’d say that precisely these two countries have got the best structure in terms of teams, and – again in terms of *teams* – they suffered the least when the big fat teams from other countries came in. But their riders lost a lot of their winning margin. Curious.

PS Anyway, I’d say that the last few years might be the start of a different phase, marked by an unprecedented rise in the budgets needed to have a competitive team (along the lines of +50% in 5 years) . It’s as if few big national or corporative sponsors had seen bigger opportunities than ever investing in a *poor* sport (throw big money in, you’ll stomp over the little-fish competition!), but the money which flooded in killed/changed the ecological/economic *environment* for which most of the existing structures were fit. I’m starting to think that the economic crisis of cycling depended on the excess of opportunities it offered: too good to buy – not too bad to be bought.

gabriele September 17, 2016 at 3:17 pm

*raise = rise, sigh!

Michael B September 18, 2016 at 12:27 am

I often read your comments, as you’re obviously a very passionate, knowledgeable, fan, even if I don’t always agree with you. And I have to admit, I struggled to get to the end of that last one! I think scepticism is a good thing, but I do think the attempts to compare Armstrong/Froome or Horner/Wiggins don’t really add up. Disclaimer that I am British, so maybe I’m biased re: Wiggins especially, but I’ve watched the sport since the early 90s so I’m not naive. But his career trajectory was nothing like Horner’s (or Cobo’s come to that). Sure you will tell me why I’m wrong anf I genuinely look forward to reading it 🙂

gabriele September 18, 2016 at 1:27 am

No, sorry, you got it totally wrong.
I’m not interested in the doping aspect at all, here.
And Wiggins is a superior all-around cycling athlete, whom I admire precisely for that, no doubt.

I was only considering the aspect of the number and impact of victories in terms of nations.

Look, if you don’t believe that, I can only say that I don’t know much about Wolfshohl or Hampsten or Petterson being especially doped… why should I have named them?! Besides, Horner’s blood values were *strange*, but he was never caught, at the end of the day. You could get more annoyed for Hesjedal, if that’s what worries you.

However, to set it straight, the idea is that Wiggo’s Tour victory was quite much an isolated event in peculiar conditions – compare that with Cadel’s and his podium performances throughout several GTs.
I believe that Wiggo himself would share this POV, may I add.

OTOH, the parallel between Froome and Armstrong means that even if Froome is winning a lot of TdFs that doesn’t necessarily imply that the UK is already *occupying* a lot of victory-space, hence *pushing away* other nations.
It’s quite typical that the TdF is won by a single rider (hence by a single nation) for several years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this nation’s presence automatically becomes notable in all that can be defined “winning big”. You need a Hinault to do that alone, or a broad movement (which the UK is actually building up, I believe, but which had close to no effect over “the last two decades”).
You may have Lance winning seven Tours, but a lot of big wins remain out for grab. Hamilton wins a Liège, fine, then what? Do you see the USA having dislodged so many nations from the top spots? 5 Monuments, 3 GTs each year… Lance and Tyler leave more than 70 big races for grab in ten years, not to speak in twenty.
In that sense, again, match what happened with the Aussies… two Monuments here, two Monuments there, the Worlds, a GT, and lots of podia, with different riders – they had a broader impact. We’ll see if that continues, or if the UK takes their place, or whatever.

My points were just:

– the change in teams’ nationality appear to be faster than the shift in winning riders’ nationality, especially over more than one decade

– on such a long period, again, the disalodging of traditional nations because of the appearance of *new nations* doesn’t look that relevant when you take into account the riders’ nationality, while it sure is when you speak of teams

– the “change of the guard”, whatever its dimension, has had a greater impact on Spain and Italy when you speak of teams, but curiously the countries whose teams defended themselves better are those whose riders have “released more space” for the newcomers, having disappeared the most from the big wins level (in absolute terms when you speak of France, in more relative terms when you speak of Belgium, even if their decline is impressive, too, despite their ongoing domination on the cobbles).

No doping innuendo, sorry. If you want to speak of needles, TUEs, different kinds of corticosteroids or whatever, we’ll have to create a different thread ^__^
I don’t believe that’s the most interesting subject, however.

Michael B September 18, 2016 at 10:26 am

I’ve obviously misunderstood the allusions to doping, apologies in that case. I think the Sky/US Postal focus on the TdF is obviously down to its profile over other tours and monuments. Sadly a Paris-Roubaix, Flanders, LBL win etc wouldn’t even register with the general public in the UK/US. I think Orica’s focus would become far more TdF focused too, if one of the Yates or someone else becomes a genuine contender. I don’t think that’s a good thing for cycling by the way, but that’s the dynamic in English speaking countries.

Larry T September 18, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Gabriele – It would seem what you describe is basically the shifting of MONEY as in sponsorships/team registrations from the traditional cycling countries. Pro team numbers from Italy, France and Spain have dwindled though all 3 still produce quality racers who can climb on the podium at just about any race.
As the UK and Australia have put more funding in, the European economic crisis (and reluctance to be involved in doping scandals) have seen those traditional cycling countries invest less.
In the US, the situation post BigTex scandal is uniquely f__ked up. I have no idea where that will go but the new regime at USAC should eventually have a positive effect, though cycling attaining the level of popular public awareness we “enjoyed” during the Tex years isn’t coming back any time soon.

gabriele September 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm

@Michael B, about the TdF focus (in case the server makes a mess).
Truth is that *other* riders are able to win the TdF *and* other big races. It’s not common, but it’s not impossible nor reserved to Coppi and Merckx age, either.

Indurain was able to be a great TdF *and* Giro winner, and I think we don’t need to go further back because you’d just find more and more true champions who, still between ’80s and ’90s, could achieve top results both at the Tour and in the best one-day races (Monuments, Worlds), LeMond, Fignon, Bugno, etc. (without even needing to recur to Hinault), also giving always the right importance to the Giro ot to several shortes stage races.

It’s true, sure, that Lance shifted that way to see cycling, and he forced the rest to follow the path in order to be at least vaguely competitive in the TdF (if that ever was the true reason…).

Anyway, it’s not like the bid for the the TdF needs to exclude the rest of cycling. You can satisfy your ignorant sponsors and still get a more considerable place in cycling history.

In more recent times, Evans was winning the TdF the same year in which he was competing hard in Tirreno or Romandie, not just prep races; in 2008 (ok, he didn’t win the TdF, but got 2nd mainly for tactical reasons rather than out of form shortage) he was making top-10s in Flèche, Liège, Emilia… Contador himself always conceded great importance to shorter stage races, even if when they weren’t perhaps the perfect ones to peak in July, and in 2010 he raced a couple of Ardennes classics getting decent top-10s, too.
It’s not easy, that’s for sure: Nibali, a hugely versatile rider, decided to sacrifice the rest of his season in order to raise his TdF chances.
Still, when you’re actually at least a bit physically and technically superior, something which Indurain, for examples, was – and Nibali isn’t – you can allow yourself to take the chance and still come out on top. Obviously, when Indurain started to lose his superiority, he focused on TdF only. But you’ll easily notice that his career didn’t go on much further.
The normal thing is that when you win big again and again, you should have got the margin to win *more* and *different*.

CA September 19, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Haha, I agree with Michael B – I couldn’t get through all of your response Gabriele – but I’ll go back to it later today to re-read it to see if this response is on the right track. I even had to go back to my initial comment because both our comments were not very direct in getting to out points.

I think we’re on the same page – even though these traditional cycling countries don’t have the same high profile wins they are used to, France and Belgium have the best and most sustainable structure to maintain strong teams moving forward. The longevity of AG2R is proof of this.

I will take this one-step farther, the UCI needs to support this model as the ideal model of a team and use it to create the best framework to govern cycling today and in the future. Their attempts to create the World Tour that is independent of the French races is silly because France is one of the most important fan bases for cycling.

Alex September 18, 2016 at 12:09 am

Thanks for these posts (and many of the topics covered). Enlightening and entertaining.

Strictly Amateur / The GCW September 18, 2016 at 5:47 pm

Good passed on knowledge. -Thanks, INRNG.

I really like Ag2r La Mondiale now.

Partykjeppen September 20, 2016 at 1:03 am

Chambery is churning out some great talent at the moment. Barder, Domont and Chevrier graduated a few years back. Last year saw Latour make the step from the feeder team, Nans Peters was signed for 2016 onwards last year, and I expect Paret-Peintre and possibly Geniets to be the next iteration.

With Peraud, Gaudin, Turgot, Minard, Riblon, Kadri all leaving it’s quite the changing of the guards. Would still like to see Montaguti retained, but seems like Italian riders of all hues are in fashion with the “new” teams.

Partykjeppen September 20, 2016 at 1:04 am

*Bardet and *2017-onwards…

Michael B September 18, 2016 at 10:33 am

PS – while I do agree Evans was a better GT rider than Wiggins it’s interesting to note that he only has one more podium finish than Wiggins (4 v 3).

Bilmo September 19, 2016 at 11:20 am

Evans may have had many more though if you look at the doping past of those who finished above him (and you’re confident he was clean! 😉 )
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doping_at_the_Tour_de_France#Doping_histories_of_Top-10_finishers.2C_1998.E2.80.932015

gabriele September 19, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Yeah, which would be +33% ^__^
And Evans actuall has got 5 podia, I think, which would make a +66% 😀

Then, one might notice that one of Wiggins’s podia was a 4th place. I know that it’s complicated to manage the palmarés with all the doping thing, but, although in Lance’s case I’m favourable to the stripping of titles (not as much as a doper as for the conspiracy charge), yet I’m not at all convinced that once you’re weighing another rider’s results you should extend the effects. Fighting for victory is not fighting for a third place, and fighting for the podium isn’t the same think as getting a 4th place. Actually, Wiggo got that 4th place which is made a podium of… essentially because Frank spent energies in the fight for the podium with Lance!

I’d say that it’s more 2 against 5 podia in GTs, not to speak of all the rest.

Please note that I hugely respect Wiggins for achieving results in a terrain for which he wasn’t that naturally talented, as well as I respect him for his results in the Roubaix, which in his case are more valuable than the actual placements he got.
Yet, he showed some interesting but not amasing potential in the 2009 TdF, a race made easier in its developments especially in the mountains by Lance’s desire to be kept into competition.
Then, the big TdF Sky bide, with the Vuelta’s outright failure – which makes for his only podium besides the 2012 Tour – and, indeed, the Tour.
This three results apart, two of which are more promising than convincing, he never made any other top *20* in any GT.
It’s not like Evans “was a better GT rider”, he was a whole different level – Evans made a top *10* in more than 60% of the GTs he raced.

That said…
@Bilmo. If Michael B proposal to consider one more podium for Wiggo is debatable, at least someone was DSQd, there! The operation of looking for doping problems which some riders had in different races is just laughable. As long as you know those who weren’t caught could be suspected as well for a world of different reasons – and very often it’s just a matter of time, as the TdF history showed. Besides all the other troubles implied in GC fixing which I underlined above. The risk is ending up favouring riders who were just more protected than others, and whose protection had no reason to be attacked in following years. I’m not saying that this is Evans’ case, but it’s a common one.

No doubt that the fact of having being considered a clean or cleaner or less doped rider might earn you more respect within the fans’ memory (I take that factor into account, at least!), but going as far as imagining different results doesn’t just make sporting sense.

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