The new year is approaching, and with it a new cycling season. We’re a month-and-a-half away from the Australian national road championships, which mark the opening in earnest of the men’s elite road season – though several races take place in Asia and Central America prior to that.
All of which means that it’s time to start looking at what might happen in 2020. So, twice a week starting from today KONM will run through each WorldTour team’s prospects for the upcoming season.
First up, the brown-arsed boys of AG2R-La Mondiale.
Probable Leaders 2020: Romain Bardet, Oliver Naesen
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Benoit Cosnefroy, Nans Peters, Oliver Naesen, Pierre Latour, Romain Bardet, Clément Champoussin
Hotness Rating 2020: Cosy
All things considered, the 2019 season was not a good one for AG2R.
Once again, the team’s big-name rider, Romain Bardet, flattered to deceive while looking fabulous yet moody and unreachable. Bardet’s early season promised much (5th in GC at Paris-Nice, 2nd in GC at Haut-Var, 9th at Amstel Gold Race) but it soon became clear during the Tour De France that it would be another fruitless year in the race for him – and by extension his team.
In 2020, Bardet will go to the Giro d’Italia for the first time, where he may or may not flatter to deceive while looking fabulous yet moody and unreachable. Either way, it’ll make a nice change for the Frenchman, who could end up benefitting – à la Thibaut Pinot – from a Grand Boucle break, or at least a season not revolving entirely around his performance in a single race. His claiming of the polka dot jersey in the 2019 Tour edition shows there still a powerful rider in there, even if he may now look more suited to one day races like Amstel Gold.Embed from Getty Images
Moving away from Bardet, it’s fair to say that – in terms of wins – Benoit Cosnefroy and Alexis Gougeard were AG2R’s star performers in 2019.
Cosnefroy won the Tour du Limousin – Nouvelle Aquitaine (including a stage-win), La Poly Normande, the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan and Paris-Camembert, accounting for five (36%) of the team’s 14 victories. It was an impressive haul for the young Norman, who goes into 2020 with every right to expect support from the team in bigger races.
Gougeard, a powerful all-rounder, registered a bunch of DNFs in 2019 but tasted success on the regional French circuit, mopping up the Boucles de l’Aulne – Châteaulin and the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire (including a stage-win). He’s a talented all-rounder and time-triallist, and could well end up earning his team more wins in 2020.
But AG2R’s most high-profile victory came courtesy of Nans Peters, who took the 17th stage of the Giro in Anterselva/Antholz, powering away from Esteban Chaves late on to cross the line solo. Peters was a relative unknown prior to winning his first grand tour stage, but in doing so laid the groundwork for an encouraging season that was capped off by a podium in the Gran Piemonte (he must enjoy northern Italy) and featured a 9th at the GP Montréal. He looks an interesting prospect for his team in 2020.Embed from Getty Images
And that, pretty much, is all she wrote for AG2R last year. There were sporadic wins elsewhere, but the riders and staff won’t look back at 2019 with much fondness. Going into 2020, however, there are reasons to be excited, albeit not in a telephone-the-president kind of way.
Young sprinter Clément Champoussin, promoted from the development setup, is an interesting addition to the “first team” roster, having already won the Giro della Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia and taken an eye-catching 9th in the Gran Piemonte. This isn’t exactly a squad chock-full of sprinting talent, so there’s reason to believe Champoussin (who, according to ProCyclingStats, “joins” AG2R in April) will get some chances to impress.
Aside from that, KONM’s looking hard at Pierre Latour and Oliver Naesen, the latter of whom will have his brother Lawrence to support him in 2020. It’s about time these two stepped up and started delivering big results for the team, Latour in major stage races (maybe even the Tour?) and Naesen in the spring classics. They both have the talent and need to prove it next year.
Prediction: A slight uptick in performances from 2019, with a dozen or so victories on the French regional scene augmented by further success in autumnal Italy.
Champoussin to lay down a marker that puts him the Arnaud Démare bracket of French sprinting; Oliver Naesen to podium in a cobbled classic; Bardet to finish 4th in the Giro and win a minor one-day race.
Stylish mediocrity. With AG2R, we wouldn’t have it any other way.