Don’t look now, but when it comes to 2021 transfer news, some of the biggest headlines are not coming from the WorldTour, but rather from the modest French team Total-Direct Énergie.
Heading the list of top recruits is experienced Norwegian star Edvald Boasson Hagen, who has won 81 races so far in his career. And while the 33-year old veteran is no youngster, he brings with him a wealth of experience after his years on such teams as HTC, Team Sky, Dimension Data and NTT.
Other top signings include French all-arounder Pierre Latour, best young rider in the 2018 Tour de France, puncheur Alexis Vuillermoz, along with Alexandre Geniez, not to mention Spaniard Victor de la Parte and British rider Chris Lawless, winner of the most recent edition of the Tour of Yorkshire.
The second-tier team might have lost the punchy Frenchman Lilian Calmejane, but it responded by poaching a number of promising and established riders and is looking increasingly like a WorldTour outfit.
“It’s really just the beginning,” team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau told VeloNews from his vacation home on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
For Bernaudeau, who’s been running teams for decades, Total is the sponsor of his dreams, one capable of bringing the serious long-term financial investment needed to build a top-flight team.
Bernaudeau — a one-time teammate to Tour de France legend Bernard Hinault — operated largely in left field when it comes to the French cycling establishment.
Sure, he put together solid teams, but he lacked the financial muscle of such teams as Cofidis or Française des Jeux, both of which have backed teams for more than 20 years. In many ways, Bernaudeau thrived as an outsider with feisty riders like Thomas Voeckler or Sylvain Chavanel. But his teams were the eternal “Davids” against the sport’s “Goliaths.”
Yet, he also longed for the day when he did not have to put together teams from a patchwork of partners.
Things started to change in 2019 when the multi-national oil and gas company Total absorbed Direct Énergie and acquired the team. And now, less than two years into the sponsorship, their investment is growing, and they even have their eye on a possible WorldTour license in the next few years.
“I had the chance to work with Total, thanks to Direct Énergie, and things are really coming together,” Bernaudeau said, without hiding his excitement of the wealth of his new recruits.
“Boasson Hagen will bring serenity and experience to the team,” he said. “That is something a team acquires over time, but Edvald can help accelerate the process, much like Niki Terpstra has done. Niki has had three serious accidents since he has come to the team. But what he has brought us is already good. He gives us an added dimension. And Boasson Hagen will add to that.”
Bernaudeau is also thrilled by the potential of riders like Latour and Lawless. Like Terpstra, Latour has struggled with accidents and injuries over the past two seasons, but Bernaudeau is optimistic that the 27-year-old will confirm the promise he showed back in 2018. And he is equally optimistic when it comes to Lawless, as he insists that the 25-year-old has only just started to tap into his true potential.
But while Bernaudeau is excited by the prospects of 2021, he is already looking well beyond, confident that Total will finally allow him to develop his dream team.
“I would like to have a women’s team and a division-three team,” he said, dreaming of creating a lasting franchise. “I would like to have a budget to have recruiters all over the world and to be able to take a plane when I wanted to meet with a promising new rider. Because a rider is not just what you see in the results column. A rider is his family, his mother, his father and his grandparents and the intellectual construction they possess.”