Ag2r La Mondiale into second place

Ag2r giro d'italia team

The UCI Pro Tour started in 2005 as a way of categorising the top teams in pro cycling and has since become the World Tour. Since this designation became many teams have enjoyed success and failure but we must go back to 2005 for the longest losing streak when Saunier Duval didn’t win a race of any kind until 19 May with Leonardo Piepoli taking a stage in the Tour of Catalonia.

But French squad Ag2r La Mondiale now surpass the second longest losing streak set by Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2005, when they didn’t win a race until 8 May. With no stage in the Giro and Europcar’s Matteo Pelucchi winning the final stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk, Ag2r now beat the Basque team to take second spot in the losing streak status race and now need to win a race in the next 10 days to avoid setting the “record” currently held by Saunier Duval.

I feel bad pointing this out as it is not for the want of trying and they’ve had two second places this year plus John Gadret won a cyclocross race on New Year’s Day and Matteo Montaguti won the mountains competition in the Critérium International. But Ag2r have yet to win a road race of any kind anywhere in the world this year.

Sometimes these things happen and the team can’t get a lucky break. In interviews riders have also spoken about feeling the pressure and fears of a negative spiral.

Perhaps we should note that in other sports the management would have been fired by now. But in cycling the team management often own the squad they merely rent out the naming rights and “real estate” on the jersey, shorts and team vehicles to a willing sponsor. So there is no board or other authority to replace the manager.

It is not all bad luck, there are factors that explain the lack of results. First the team’s sprinters don’t have a proven record, Jimmy Casper is the best bet but it’s not yet worked out whilst Sébastian Minard and Lloyd Mondory are regular top-10 finishers but outright wins are rare. And new recruit Manuel Belletti hasn’t delivered yet.

More broadly they’re the fifth oldest team in the World Tour and a squad than didn’t win much last year either. When it came to making changes to the roster for 2012 not much changed. One shining recruit is Romain Bardet, author of an impressive move in the Amstel when he gradually dropped everyone from the morning break to stay away solo before being caught by the lead group before the final climb of the Cauberg. But other recruits include Gregor Gazvoda, Boris Shpilevsky and Amir Zagari, who whilst all fine elite athletes, were primarily hired for their past haul of points on the UCI Asia Tour rather than their potential to win in Europe.

Meanwhile Jean-Christophe Péraud has been practising for the MTB Olympics instead of focussing 100% on the road. Good for him, he said in a recent interview he’d rather win gold than win the Tour de France and besides, he’s a rare winner on the road. But it’s another factor behind the team’s lack of success.

Looking forward
A Giro stage win looks possible for John Gadret, he won last year after all and given the more open race perhaps he’ll deliver again. If not Hubert Dupont is another candidate for success in Italy so there’s every chance the now disgraced Saunier Duval team retains the dismal record. Back in France there’s also the Tour de Picardie and the Circuit de Lorraine Professionnel, two modest races well within the reach of a UCI World Tour team.

But the risk is that the team feels more and more pressure to win and this makes them lose their cool, for example when in a breakaway they attack too early out of desperation.

But they need to rack up points in order to stay in the top tier for 2013 and beyond. So far the strategy has been to place riders into the top-10 and this does win points. Of course should they win a stage in the Tour de France or take the yellow jersey for a few days then the entire 2012 season will be a success for the sponsor because the publicity generated will be enormous.

16 thoughts on “Ag2r La Mondiale into second place”

  1. Serious topic, as always well written, but I am convinced that a bit of a humorous take goes a long way. I humbly submit that riders go slower when forced to wear ugly kits. Would you choose to buy brown bib shorts? Me neither.

    Now that I have that off of my chest, it seems that teams in these situations illustrate the difficulties inherent in creating a ranking system and maintaining it. AG2R brought on points to stay in the World Tour with riders seemingly ill equipped to win the marque races. They may have points but they lack game.

    The big name on the team is Nicholas Roche, who it perhaps time to say it, has not brought in the big wins. John Gadret is a favorite rider of mine and I want him to podium at the Giro, but he appears to have little support (aside from the fact that Roche is not at the Giro).

    Is it possible that the UCI wants certain teams to simply be pack fodder? That seems unlikely, but it is always obvious which teams don’t really seem like they fit in. AG2R is that team this season (and last, and pretty much for the past few years.)

    • Nicolas Roche….there’s a curious one. Perhaps better to judge him on this season’s results given he wasn’t really fit last year due to the crash at the Dauphine. Has plenty of good placings at Grand Tours previous to that so I think it’s too early to write him off.

  2. I have to laugh, Erik, because my very first thought was: How could they win races dressed in pooh-brown shorts? I’m not a psychologist but I have read a bit here and there over the years about how color affects people’s senses; in this case, maybe the brown shorts negatively affect their psyches from an aesthetic point of view, affecting performance?

    Nice, vivid colors (somewhat subjective), says the literature, make people feel happy. Kind of like sunshine tends to make people feel “brighter” than gloomy days.

    For a cyclist, maybe putting on a great-looking kit might very well just make one ride a little bit faster?
    I know when I used to play team sports, the “cool factor” and the colors of my uniform was one small aspect of how good I felt walking out onto the field. As a cyclist (but also as an artist/graphic artist – first career), the jersey I pull on and my whole kit definitely affects the way I ride. If I put on a Euro-cut/styled jersey, like a Castelli, the youngster inside of me feels really cool; it also pressures me to ride faster because no one should wear Castelli and walk their bike up a hill, right?

    So, it’s time for Ag2r to toss the brown shorts and bring in a new kit that might just make that bit of difference. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

    Superstitious, like many athletes:)

  3. 1) Those who value Olympic gold more than traditional professional cycling races deserve no more respect from yours faithfully, since they don’t respect their (traditionally un-Olympic when professional) sport.
    2) “Tour of Catalonia” sounds as weird as “Tour of Italy”. Its name is, and always was, the VOLTA, in Catalan and in every language.
    3) Why is it that winning a KOM jersey is not considered a “victory”? Any solid reason?

    • Agree with your first two points. Would agree with your third point in a longer race, but the Critérium International takes place over one weekend, so winning the KOM jersey was just a by-product of being part of the breakaway in the one mountain stage.

  4. wow love the content u have been providing great work. ag2r is really in the slump now. i hope they can come up with a win, maybe a change in there kit mite help them some what, never liked the colours, but some it has grown on me. i was looking at nocentini he was going well a few yrs a go. hope he can find that form again

  5. Their core problem is not having a sprinter who wins. Casper was supposed to that and he hasn’t. One slightly better sprinter and they’d probably have picked up a couple of wins in smaller French races and nobody would think that they were doing particularly badly.

    They have GC riders who are talented but are unlikely to actually win major stage races. That’s true of a lot of teams and wouldn’t be a problem if they were reliably getting the odd win elsewhere.

  6. aside from the shorts, this is a result of their constant struggle to remain in the world tour. they have a strategy of gaining the points for this by consistent high places, rather than risking everything going for the glory.

    a distortion created by the points system. i’d like to see the UCI take into account the team’s contribution to “making the race” for their sporting criteria, like the race organisers do for wildcards – looking at genuine efforts, not just sitting out in a pointless breakaway showing the jersey.

    AG2R might be better off following the europcar approach of being a top pro-conti team, getting invites to all the big races (in france at least) but without that pressure for points. but then maybe the sponsors would not take kindly to a downgrade and the buck stops there.

    but it is pretty hard to win many significant races without a top sprinter

  7. Roche is their “big name” or maybe its his dads name, but that is another debate.
    That said, I personally feel that Roche is focusing on the wrong events, years ago he was supposed to be a sprinter, then he was supposed to be breakaway stage winner in grand tours, however I would suggest, in a very non scientific way, that Roche is in fact a “small tour” winner.
    By this I think he focus should be on smaller tours 5 to 7 day events, such as Romandie, Swiss, Dauphine, Britain, and so on, I think he could make a name for himself and not rely on his surname in these races, but hey what do I know!!

  8. The kit is surprisingly visible in the pack though (and I don’t like it either). In a sea of primary colours and black, it is easier to pick out the poo brown and pastel, which is probably why the sponsors like it.

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