Road

Groupama-FDJ pins down present and invests in future

Renewal of Pinot, Démare, Gaudu, and Küng gives French team options for short and long term.

Stalwart French team Groupama-FDJ is laying a stable base for years to come.

While WorldTour outfits around the globe are suffering financial setbacks and sponsor crises, Groupama-FDJ this week renewed the contracts of four top riders on whom they can pin both their present and future aspirations.

The team, backed by a national lottery provider and insurance firm, invested big this week, extending the contracts of GC star Thibaut Pinot, rising stage racer David Gaudu, sprinter Arnaud Démare, and time trial expert Stefan Küng through 2023. Team sport director Yvon Madiot described the riders’ pledge of confidence in Groupama-FDJ as a testament to his squad’s stable and family-like atmosphere.

“They are aware of what they have here,” Madiot said on his team’s website. “There is a lot of discussion between members of different teams to find out what everyone has or will have, to know the situation here and there. I’m not going to say that things are necessarily better at Groupama-FDJ, but the riders know what there is here, they also know very well what there is elsewhere, and the choice appears to be quickly made, so it’s good for us.”

The recent confirmation of both Groupama and FDJ’s sponsorship through 2024 guarantees the team’s future for the coming years, providing Pinot and his teammates shelter from the financial turmoil that the rest of the peloton is currently facing. However, Madiot points out that there’s more to it than simply a search for security, but a genuine bond to the team.

“There is something fairly steady here, even if the team has enormously evolved in recent years. There is a family spirit within a very professional environment,” he said. “We have a well-organized and very professional team in many areas, but this family spirit, which is important to us, is probably what makes the riders want to stay.”

Pinning down the present

Pinot lit up his nation’s hopes at last year’s Tour, taking a stage win and moving into the top six before abandoning on stage 19. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The renewal of Pinot, Démare, Gaudu and Küng marks both a short- and long-term plan for Groupama-FDJ, with Pinot and Démare able to lead the team in coming years while Gaudu, 23, and Küng, 26, build on their growing experience.

“Thibaut has just turned 30 but he is just coming of age,” Madiot said. “He will now be able to make the most of his potential, and he is still quite fresh in many areas in my opinion. Same thing for Arnaud. We absolutely don’t believe that he’s at the end of the road, on the contrary. Both are in the prime of their careers.”

Pinot recently expressed his long-term commitment to the team, stating he aims to see out his career with the outfit that he has raced with since turning professional. And after coming so close yet-oh-so far in last year’s Tour de France, Pinot told Le Parisien of his hopes of eventually bringing a yellow jersey to his French team earlier this week.

Pinot’s display of confidence was returned by his sport director, who described his team captain as “coming into his best years.” Madiot feels that Pinot’s tearful abandon on a stormy stage to Tignes in last year’s Tour could have marked a turning point in his career.

“Thibaut always needs to see, understand, and sometimes go through a difficult moment before passing a stage,” Madiot said. “With him, there is always a validation phase before going to the upper floor.”

Pinot will return to the Tour this year “free of fear” of the race as he approaches La Grande Boucle with a revised attitude. The tough, mountainous course on tap this summer means that Groupama-FDJ will leave sprinter Démare on the bench, but Madiot showed his confidence in the fast man, describing him as “a guarantee to get results. Since 2017, he has won a grand tour stage every year. It means something.”

Investing in the future

Gaudu played a key role in Pinot’s Tour challenge, providing support in the final of key mountain stages. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Pinot was aided in his yellow jersey challenge last summer by breakout climber Gaudu, who acted as his captain’s last man in the mountains as he went toe-to-toe with Julian Alaphilippe and the leaders from Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma. The youngster went on to take an impressive 13th on GC in just his second grand tour.

“David and Stefan are much younger, but we have high and important plans with each one of them,” Madiot said. “For Thibaut and Arnaud, it’s right now. The evolution and learning process is over for them. We are really in the heart of the matter and we must get as many results as possible. Regarding David and Stefan, it’s coming very soon.

“David is already a great rider,” Madiot continued. “I think that in the next two years, he will get the chance to go for a general classification on a grand tour. To be in pole position for a grand tour is the last step he’s got to make. We will then have two great leaders for the grand tours.”

While the team is pinning its future stage race hopes on Gaudu, they will be looking on rouleur Küng as an option for one-day races. The powerhouse Swiss rider proved his massive engine at last year’s world championships with a podium position in the road race, and has banked time trial wins at the BinckBank Tour, Tour de Suisse, and Volta ao Algarve.

“He has the physical potential, he has the will to do well and he just lacks a bit of experience to confirm all this with major results,” Madiot said. “Now, he just needs to do small adjustments and gain confidence.”

The long term renewal of Groupama-FDJ’s four key assets marks a sign of both team financial security and rider confidence that many in the peloton will eye with envy. Could it be the beginnings of a French renaissance in top-tier cycling? Time will tell.