Team Focus 2019: Groupama-FDJ

Nationality: French

2018 WT Ranking: 14th

2018 WT major wins: Il LombardiaStages 15 & 19 La Vuelta, Thibaut Pinot; Stage 18 TDF, Arnaud Démare

Riders to watch in 2019: Thibaut Pinot, David Gaudu, Arnaud Démare, Marc Sarreau

Notable for: Being Marc Madiot’s plaything; a whole lot of meh

AMAZINGLY, KONM IS QUITE EXCITED ABOUT GROUPAMA-FDJ IN 2019. MOSTLY BECAUSE OF THIBAUT PINOT AND DAVID GAUDU.

Of course, by “mostly” I mean “almost entirely”. There are other noteworthy riders in this squad: Arnaud Démare remains of interest in an “oh yeah him” kind of way; Marc Sarreau could yet become a big deal in French sprinting (but probably won’t); Sébastien Reichenbach has the best name in the peloton; Rudy Molard is capable of springing a surprise.

But, for KONM at least, G-FDJ equals Pinot and Gaudu. Their dual exploits at Milano-Torino were a joy to behold. Pinot looked powerful, though we’d loved to have seen how he would have dealt with having to fend off Superman López in the final few km had Gaudu not ingeniously taken out the Colombian with a classic “oh sorry mate didn’t see you there, any damage?”

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Being completely honest, KONM only really rode in behind the Pinot train after his autumn performances. He dropped Vincenzo Nibali at Il Lombardia as if the four-time grand tour winner was nothing more than a grossly overweight MAMIL clinging grimly to his wheel on a Sunday morning. It was Pinot’s fifth win of the season, coming three days after Milano-Torino and less than a month after winning his second Vuelta stage of the year. Of those five total victories, four came in September or October.

Pinot’s late-season form saved his – and probably his team’s – season. To that point, G-FDJ had picked up a smattering of stages: Sarreau won two at Étoile des Besseges and one each at La Roue Tourangelle, Sarthe and Dunkerque, all before May was out; Démare nabbed a few minor(ish) stages here and there and took Stage 18 of the Tour before going on to win the Tour Poitou-Charentes. All well and good, but not much to really float anyone’s boat.

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As it is, the whole complexion of the campaign was changed by those heady closing months. Now, the team goes into 2019 with something approaching a sense of optimism. Pinot in particular appears reborn as a ruthless rider with the legs to outlast his rivals in a monument or a hilly classic. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a man better-suited to one-day races?

Sadly, there doesn’t seem much possibility of G-FDJ allowing their protagonist to prioritise other races at the expense of the Tour, so you’d expect Pinot to do his duty and plan for yet another three weeks of watching stronger GC contenders disappear into the distance at various locations around the Hexagon. We know he can win stages, but there’s no way this team can drive him into the maillot jaune shakeup.

Pinot might even have to go and do the Giro and/or Vuelta as well. It’d be lovely to see him focus instead on races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège rather than preparing for some hopeless variation of a grand tour double. That just won’t happen, though: Groupama-FDJ exists primarily to capitalise on TDF publicity.

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Pinot aside, of particular interest will be the performances of David Gaudu, the young man who’ll inevitably take the weight of the French nation on his shoulders when Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour predictably fail to end the country’s Tour drought.

KONM is very much Team Gaudu, not least because he proved a massively successful acquisition in a previous edition of Pro Cycling Manager. It’s possible he’ll be the latest in a long line of French False Messiahs, but KONM isn’t the only one starting to get the impression that he may be France’s best shot at the Grande Boucle in the coming years.

In cycling terms, he’s barely out of nappies, so KONM doesn’t expect huge victories in 2019, but it would be great for Gaudu to really lay down some markers.

Featured photo: Filip Bossuyt/Commons, edited by KONM

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Writer featured in/on FourFourTwo, Guardian, The Set Pieces, Sports Illustrated, R&K, TFT, Nightwatchman, World Soccer, Pickles, Cricketworld and more. Twitter: @HeavyFirstTouch

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