FDJ-SUEZ Team Talk: Plenty of success, but were there enough big race wins?

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli and Grace Brown led the line admirably, but FDJ-SUEZ arguably lacked prestigious wins in 2023

Clock19:00, Sunday 26th November 2023
FDJ-SUEZ keep chipping away as one of the more successful WorldTeams, but perhaps they are missing something special to propel them to the very top

© Sprint Cycling Agency

FDJ-SUEZ keep chipping away as one of the more successful WorldTeams, but perhaps they are missing something special to propel them to the very top

When it comes to the Women’s WorldTour, few teams can claim to have enjoyed an upward trajectory as successful as FDJ-SUEZ’s in recent years. Founded in 2006, for a long time the team was a largely French-focused affair, but has grown into a truly international team, featuring stars from Denmark to Australia and taking wins in Grand Tours and Classics.

Headlined by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli and Grace Brown, as well as the ever-present contingent of French riders, FDJ-SUEZ have become one of the strongest and most aggressive riders in the peloton, with riders suited to every terrain. They may not be considered one of the huge teams like SD Worx or Lidl-Trek, but anyone watching a race will see the blue and red jerseys getting in and amongst the action.

In 2023, the team had a lot to build on, coming off the back of a 2022 whose highlights included a stage win at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift and victory in two of the three Ardennes Classics. Did they step up a level this year, and where can they go 2024? Let’s take a closer look.

GCN’s 2023 Review

In 2023, FDJ-SUEZ took 17 wins as a team, plus two of their number claimed national titles, to earn a points haul that saw them finish sixth in the UCI WorldTour rankings, and ahead of squads like dsm-firmenich and Jumbo-Visma.

Based purely on numbers, it’s hard to fault FDJ-SUEZ’s 2023 season, with leaders Brown, Cavalli and Uttrup Ludwig all winning consistently, but on closer inspection, none of those wins came in the biggest races, namely Grand Tours and Classics. What they did have, though, was a lot of home success, whether that was in French races or in Australia and Scandinavia for Brown and Uttrup Ludwig.

The year started off with an almost perfect trip to Australia, with Brown winning the overall of the Tour Down Under before Loes Adegeest took victory at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race - it doesn’t get much better than winning the first two WorldTour races of the season.

Going into the Classics, FDJ-SUEZ’s momentum definitely slowed down, and some gaps were exposed in their roster - once a strong Classics-type rouleur, Brown has definitely evolved into a different type of rider, and wasn’t quite delivering in the cobbled races. The cobbled and Belgian races were forgettable, with the team finishing outside the top 10 on most occasions.

The spring highlights came outside of Belgium, pinpointed by Uttrup Ludwig’s third at Strade Bianche (after Kristen Faulkner’s disqualification), Vittoria Guazzini’s third in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and then sixth for Brown in the Amstel Gold Race. Eugénie Duval also took fourth in Paris-Roubaix Femmes, as part of the breakaway that survived all the way to the end.

Cavalli, who in 2022 won two of the three Ardennes races, struggled in the spring, returning from illness and still feeling the effects of her dramatic crash in the Tour de France Femmes last year.

Things picked up again away from the Classics, with FDJ-SUEZ winning a series of French races. Through May, whilst most teams were heavily focusing on the Spanish block of stage races, FDJ-SUEZ put more of their efforts into a French block, whilst Uttrup Ludwig took a rest from racing and only rode the Vuelta a Burgos, where she finished 11th.

Into June, Cavalli made her return with a victory atop the Hautacam in the Tour des Pyrénees in another strong race for the team, and again an example of them prioritising French events. Going into the Giro and the Tour, FDJ-SUEZ were thereabouts in the action and in the top 10 overall, but missed either winning or podiuming in either, which is perhaps a disappointment.

After a slightly quieter June and July, then, they came back strong for the end of the season, winning three stages of the Tour of Scandinavia, Cavalli taking the overall at the tough Tour de l’Ardèche, and Uttrup Ludwig taking a big win at the Giro dell’Emilia and second at Tre Valli Varesine to round things off well.

Whilst the wins came, and came consistently, off the back of strong team performances, FDJ’s decision to focus slightly more on the French races did cost them when they went against the biggest WorldTour squads, and next year we would like them to convert those wins into success at the very top level.

GCN's rating: 7.5/10

FDJ-SUEZ should be proud of their successes in 2023, and top-level wins aren’t the only ones that matter, but the lack of a Grand Tour stage victory or big Classics title leaves a clear gap in their palmarès.

Ins & Outs

On the surface, there aren’t too many big changes at FDJ-SUEZ, but they’ve quietly made some very canny moves for 2023. They’re saying goodbye to five riders, as Stine Borgli opts for retirement and four others move on to other teams. Clara Copponi is perhaps the biggest loss, taking her sprinting abilities to Lidl-Trek, whilst Victorie Guilman, Maëlle Grossetête and Emilia Fahlin will be in St Michel-Mavic-Auber93, Human Powered Health and Arkéa - B&B Hotels colours, respectively, in 2024.

The riders they’re bringing in more than make up for those losses, though, with six brand-new names joining the squad for 2024. Most of the arrivals are quite young, but they’re talented riders who will bring value beyond their age to the team.

The headline move is perhaps Amber Kraak, from Jumbo-Visma. A former rower, Kraak is a very strong rider, and perhaps one of the most underrated riders on Jumbo-Visma. Her attacking style means she’s often in the break or active at the front, and this year she’s really been converting that into strong GC finishes. It remains to be seen how she’ll fit in with the leaders FDJ already have, but she is a very useful addition to the team.

Nina Buijsman and Coralie Demay also bring experience to the team, whilst Alessia Vigilia, Léa Curinier and Lauren Molengraaf mark an influx of new and young talent, with both climbing and Classics potential. At only 18, Molengraaf won’t be taking wins straight away, but Curinier and Vigilia could be in line for some break-out rides, especially when the stage races come around, which is perhaps where FDJ lacked depth this year.

Where FDJ-SUEZ will find wins in 2024

With no dramatic line-up changes, FDJ-SUEZ will likely have a similar approach to their racing and goals in 2024 as in 2023. Uttrup Ludwig, Brown and Cavalli will remain the key leaders in stage races and hilly one-days, where their success is proven. Uttrup Ludwig and Brown are perhaps near a ceiling of what they can achieve - though they should continue to take those kinds of results for a few years - but the rider who could really step up further is Marta Cavalli.

Cavalli’s success in the Ardennes in 2022, beating Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering on two occasions, proved how strong she can be, and her climbing results this year - in smaller races, but on very hard climbs such as the Hautacam - have reconfirmed her climbing strength. She was very much still overcoming some mental and physical limitations in 2023, so with those hopefully in her rearview mirror in 2024, the Italian is more than capable of becoming a climber ready to rival the likes of Vollering in the biggest stage races and climbs.

The additions of Alessia Vigilia and Léa Curinier will also add to their climbing contingent.

When it comes to their Classics weakness, FDJ have somewhat combatted that for 2024 with Amber Kraak. We would expect her to be up there in the cobbled Classics, and Vittoria Guazzini also looks to be on a path towards one-day strength. Rather than hoping Brown or Uttrup Ludwig can pull something out, FDJ-SUEZ should really start to tap into new talent with their approach to the Belgian races in 2024.

The loss of Clara Copponi may mean we see FDJ jerseys a little less in sprint finishes, but they still have Gladys Verhulst who is handy in a bunch kick, and Guazzini is learning her trade as a solid lead-out rider.

The only question mark is in which races these wins will come. FDJ-SUEZ definitely have the depth of riders to target races all across the season, but it depends on whether they make the top WorldTour races their real focus - races that are definitely harder to win but are much more prestigious additions to their palmarès.

Predicting FDJ-SUEZ’s breakout rider

Now building on a more experienced base, FDJ-SUEZ don’t have a great wealth of young riders in their roster, with all but one aged 22 or over. The one who isn’t is Lauren Molengraaf, the junior cyclo-cross world champion and mountain biker, but with plans to continue a multidisciplinary programme, a breakout road season is quite an ask for the first-year elite rider.

Instead, our pick for a name who is going to breakthrough onto the WorldTour scene is Alessia Vigilia. Particularly attentive women’s cycling fans will already be aware of Vigilia, who has ridden for Top Girls Fassa Bortolo for the last two seasons and had a lot of success in lower-level races, as well as being ever-active in bigger events. In the year that she came fourth in Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria and won the overall at the Giro Toscana, the 24-year-old earned herself a step up to the WorldTour with FDJ-SUEZ.

Though she already has a handful of wins to her name from 2023, we’re predicting that, with the trajectory she is on, 2024 could see Vigilia turn those wins into success at WorldTour level. She can climb well, and also has an aggressive approach to racing, and though FDJ may expect her to put in some team support for bigger names, she should also be given her own opportunities and that should translate into a breakout ride.

Do you agree with our assessment of FDJ-SUEZ's 2023 campaign, and what do you think will be their main targets in 2024?

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