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AG2R-Citroën claims its 500th win 30 years after its first

Marc Sarreau's win on the opening day of the Tour Poitou-Charentes hit a big milestone for the longstanding team.

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Some 30 years after opening up its win account, AG2R-Citroën has hit a fifth century with Marc Sarreau sprinting to the team’s 500th victory on the opening stage of the Tour Poitou-Charentes.

The 29-year-old fended off Trek-Segafredo’s Edward Theuns and TotalEnergies’ Lorrenzo Manzin to claim an emphatic win and move into the overall lead in the five-day race.

The win was only Sarreau’s second in AG2R colors after he moved to the squad from fellow French team Groupama-FDJ at the start of the 2021 season. At this same race last year, Sarreau was knocked unconscious when he was sent flying over his handlebars and into the crowd when his bars snapped on the final stage. It is believed the handlebars were damaged in a previous crash.

“I am very happy. The day was relatively quiet despite the quick start. Everyone had energy for the final section; it was aggressive and edgy. The team did a tremendous job. We knew from Oliver (Naesen) that it was necessary to be well placed at the point of the last roundabout but that the most important thing was the launching. He dropped me off at 250m and I was able to keep all my speed; it was perfect,” Sarreau said after his success.

“It’s been two years that I’ve had a succession of difficulties. It’s frustrating for me and for the team. So, I’m happy to be back on the path to victory but I hope it’s only the start of a good period.

“There are still several opportunities to win this week so we will try to continue in this direction and defend the leader’s jersey.”

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AG2R-Citroën is one of the longest-standing teams in the men’s peloton with just Movistar and Jumbo-Visma older following their founding in 1980 and 1986 respectively.

Having hung up his racing wheels the year before, after a decade as a pro, Vincent Lavenu decided to start his own team in 1992. The team consisted of 12 riders plus two stagiaires and was called Chazal-Vanille et Mûre-Vetta, after Lavenu convinced sponsor Chazal to follow him from his final pro team.

“We have been waiting for this 500th victory. It is a beautiful symbol, and it is not only anecdotal. There is a very long history behind this number. This represents the work of all our partners, all our riders, and all the staff for 31 years. There have been great victories and smaller ones, but each aroused an important emotion.

“I am happy for Marc who has gone through difficult times in recent months. It’s a beautiful moment. Now we are waiting for the next ones because it does not stop there.”

The team notched up five victories in its opening season with Swiss rider Jocelyn Jolidon scoring its first win at the Tour de Vaucluse. Robert Forrest helped the team to two more, but his season would soon be over after he was involved in an accident on his way hope from a race that left him in a coma for several weeks.

The signing of Jaan Kirsipuu for the 1993 season saw the squad take a bit step forward. The Estonian racked up seven of the team’s victories across the year.

A developing team

Petit Casino took over the sponsorship of the team in 1996, before AG2R Prévoyance joined them in 1997. It would be the team’s best season to date with Kirsipuu still raking in the wins alongside Stéphane Bárthe, Alexandre Vinokourov, and Christophe Agnolutto, among others.

By the late ‘90s, Lavenu had built up a team that was regularly troubling the top of the victory rankings. In 2000, AG2R would take over as the sole sponsor of the team and it would remain that way until last year when Citroën came on as a co-sponsor.

The French team would never return to the heady heights of the late 90s where 40+ wins were a more common occurrence. However, it has maintained its place in cycling’s top tier throughout with some standout results such as Christophe Moreau’s overall win at the 2007 Critérium du Dauphiné, John Gadret’s third place at the 2011 Giro d’Italia, Jean Christophe Péraud’s second at the 2014 Tour de France, and Romain Bardet’s podium finishes at the French grand tour in 2016 and 2017.

In recent seasons, AG2R-Citroën has expanded its repertoire as a squad. For much of its existence, the team had never been a front-runner on the cobbles with one top 10 placing each at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in its first 26 seasons. It has taken four across the two races in the past five seasons, thanks to Silvan Dillier, Oliver Naesen, and Greg Van Avermaet.

The team lost its big GC star Bardet at the end of the 2020 season but the signing of the Australian Ben O’Connor for 2021 has given the team plenty of hope for the future. While it can look to O’Connor to bring it more success in the overall classification of stage races, the team’s modus operandi remains stage hunting and it has proved pretty good at that over the years.