French cycling federation takes the Sky road as it unveils pro team plan
Proposed squad would be based at new national cycling centre - but would have MTB, BMX and track riders as well as road
The French Cycling Federation (FFC) has outlined plans to launch a professional cycling team using a similar approach to the one that within four years of its launch has brought Team Sky two winners of the Tour de France – a race not won by a rider from its home country since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
The proposals were outlined on Friday by FFC managing director Olivier Quéguiner at France’s new national velodrome in Saint Quentin en Yvelines near Paris, which had its official opening the previous day, reports William Fotheringham in the Guardian.
In a case perhaps of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the intention is for the team to be based at the complex, which is called the Centre National du Cyclisme – Team Sky is based at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester.
According to Quéguiner, the team would need an annual budget of some €25 million, of which €20 million would be provided by a headline sponsor, and €5 million from its suppliers.
As for when the team, which would not be confined to French riders, might see the light of day, Quéguiner acknowledges that next year could be too soon given the fact that a sponsor needs to be courted ahead of its major riders being signed.
"It is not 2015 or nothing," he explained. "If not 2015, then 2016, but this team will happen. The platform for it is there. We have planned the velodrome complex around the fact that this team will see the light of day, so the office space is already there."
In contrast to Team Sky, which focuses purely on the road (although the broadcaster also sponsors British Cycling), the French outfit would combine riders from all four Olympic disciplines including mountain biking, track and BMX.
"The question is: what do other teams offer to our other disciplines? We need an answer to that problem," reflected Quéguiner. "We have sports people at the highest level who struggle [financially] to get to the end of each month. We need to be realistic. We need to raise our game."
In the almost three decades since the last of Hinault’s five Tour de France victories, finding another French winner has proved elusive. Hinault himself was second in 1986, as was Laurent Fignon in 1989, both beaten by Greg LeMond.
The only Frenchman to be runner-up since then in the country’s home tour was Richard Virenque, second to Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Virenque also won the mountains classification seven times, the sole area in which French riders have exercised a degree of dominance – in half of the 28 editions since Hinault’s last win, the polka dot jersey has been won by a Frenchman.
Twice in this decade, France has come perilously close to missing out on a stage winner in the race for what would be only the third time in its history, Pierre Rolland in 2011 and Christophe Riblon last year managing to spare the host nation’s blushes; each won a stage on Alpe d’Huez in the closing days of the race.
Away from the road, France came away from the London Olympics in 2012 with a disappointing haul of four medals, one of them gold, won by Julie Bresset in the women’s mountain biking event.
Three silver medals came in the men’s events on the track, from Bryan Coquard in the men’s omnium and Grégory Baugé in the individual sprint, the latter also part of the team sprint line-up beaten by Great Britain in the final.
The rider who won gold in both those events, Jason Kenny, was among British cyclists invited to race at the opening of France's new velodrome last night; he took silver in the keirin, and lost to rival Baugé in the sprint semi-final, the Frenchman going on to take gold.
While no doubt it’s Great Britain’s success on the road and track that has inspired the FFC’s plans, as yet there’s no stated aim similar to that outlined by Sir Dave Brailsford when Team Sky launched of getting a British winner of the Tour de France within five years – something achieved twice over, and with time to spare.
But the French could look to an athlete from across the Channel in a different sport for proof that the search for a home winner can eventually come to an end – Andy Murray, who last year became the first British winner of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
They'll be hoping it will take less than 76 years between Hinault's triumph in 1985 and seeing the next French winner of the Tour.