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Thibaut Pinot's departure was one of the main talking points of Groupama-FDJ's season

Groupama-FDJ Team Talk: Rebuilding with success, but can the momentum continue?

Breaking down the team's managerial shortcomings in 2023, the deep bench of strong young riders and waving goodbye to fan favourite Thibaut Pinot

Clock17:31, Saturday 18th November 2023

Groupama-FDJ is officially in a new era. Gone are the two stalwarts that have been the main breadwinners. Out the door is Thibaut Pinot, who is retiring, and sprinter Arnaud Démare, who has jumped ship to Arkéa-Samsic. What is left is the new core of Groupama-FDJ, revolving around Stefan Küng, David Gaudu and a slew of young riders.

Nevertheless, even with the sea changes at Groupama-FDJ, it is still firmly a French team piloted by the ultimate French director, Marc Madiot. With his longtime muse Thibaut Pinot out of the peloton and to his goats in the mountains of the Alsace, it is a new era at FDJ, even if the traditional team will almost certainly retain its traditional French ethos.

That is not to say the team has not been able to match, to some degree, the increase in competition from the non-traditional cycling set-ups. In terms of UCI points and the high-tech business of time trialling, they have been towards the front half of the WorldTour. Last year, their ranking was seventh. To put that in perspective, there are four WorldTour teams registered in France and the next best team is Cofidis, all the way down in 14th with 4,000 fewer UCI points to their tally.

For a team firmly in a rebuilding phase, Groupama-FDJ is in control of its own destiny and will likely remain in front of the relegation scrum. However, with Gaudu being a strong option at the Tour de France even if he is not a top-flight contender, the question is how high Groupama-FDJ can get in their next, post-Pinot phase.

Read more: 'Thibaut is God for us' – Spending a day with the Collectif Ultras Pinot at Il Lombardia

GCN’s 2023 review

For a French team with primarily French leaders, the focus of the season is normally on the biggest French races: Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France, with a lesser but pronounced emphasis on the French Cup races that dot the calendar and offer a hefty haul of UCI points.

FDJ, however, has grown to have a knack for the Italian races as well, with solid results in the Giro, Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and the autumn Classics. Plus, with a couple of strong Classics riders, they really have their bases covered around the world and across the cycling calendar. Yet, by all accounts, the buck stops in France.

At the first big French race of this year, all signs were pointing up at the onset with David Gaudu and Paris-Nice. The year had started in an odd way for the team with Gaudu and Arnaud Démare publicly feuding after tension at a training camp, but by the time March rolled around tempers seemed tamed as Paris-Nice marked the first real objective of Gaudu’s season.

Duly, at the 'race to the sun', Gaudu delivered. While he could not quite match Tadej Pogačar’s scintillating form in the mountains, Gaudu anticipated the action on the crucial first stage where Pogačar crushed the rest of his competition, including Jonas Vingegaard.

He attacked at the bottom of the climb and was able to hang onto Pogačar’s coattails when he inevitably caught the Frenchman. While he bled bits of time throughout the rest of the race, Gaudu was still able to stick within a minute of the Slovenian and finish ahead of Vingegaard in second place overall.

Read more: Lewis Askey and the leaner man in the mirror

In the spring, there were a couple of other bright points in the French team, most notably from the young French talents Lenny Martinez and Romain Grégoire. Both riders were highly touted U23 riders who were a part of the extremely successful Groupama-FDJ development team. Both riders came in and started performing at the WorldTour right away, highlighted by an eighth place at Strade Bianche with Grégoire.

Paired with Gaudu’s Paris-Nice and Thibaut Pinot’s stellar Tour de France, the spring was high time for the team, even if Valentin Madouas and Stefan Küng came up a bit short in the Classics.

Where the team really came up wanting was around the Tour de France. It started before the race even began, with an on-form Arnaud Démare left off the team in favour of below-average climbing domestiques for David Gaudu, who was far off his Paris-Nice form in the Dauphiné. Not only did that choice knee-cap the team for the Tour, it also irreconcilably ended Démare’s relationship with the team and sent him into the open arms of Arkea in a mid-season transfer.

Predictably, the team’s Tour did not live up to the promise of 2022. While Gaudu was ninth overall, and Pinot put on some sparkling performances in a few stages, a ninth place in the GC and no wins was not what the team came for. They must have had their sights higher and unquestionably fell short.

Read more: Bretagne Classic: An emotional Valentin Madouas wins in a three-up sprint

Nevertheless, the team rebounded in the closing stages of the season with a WorldTour one-day win for Valentin Madouas in the Bretagne Classic, a stint in red for Lenny Martinez at the Vuelta and a near miss for Lewis Askey at Paris-Tours. With that mixed scorecard, Groupama-FDJ can take budding confidence into the next couple of seasons, with fresh talent, even if lessons should be learned from 2023.

GCN rating: 6/10

While a 6/10 might seem low for a team ranked seventh in the world, their seventh place is a relatively soft one. Beyond Paris-Nice, their French campaign was full of misses, with the most celebrated moments coming from a rider who was on his swan song and not from memorable wins. The bright spots in the team's young talent are undeniable, but so too was the mismanagement of the season in a number of ways.

Where Groupama-FDJ's wins will come in 2024

While Thibaut Pinot contributed throughout his final season, Groupama-FDJ is now firmly moved onto new focuses, and the various young riders in their midst shows the future is going to be largely about youth, though there are some notable older riders who will be the core of the team.

Read more: Lapierre and Groupama-FDJ split after 22 years of collaboration

Stefan Küng will, once again, chase victories time trials and the Classics, with there-or-there about results in both types of racing in 2023. With the Olympics on the horizon, there is another goal to focus on, but it will be a challenge as always, with new, talented riders coming into the fray every year. David Gaudu will also be hoping to run it back to his Paris-Nice form and make a run at the Tour podium, once again.

Nevertheless, Groupama-FDJ will be absolutely looking towards their slew of young riders to step up to the status as winners. The primary of those young names are Lenny Martinez and Romain Grégoire, but they'll also look to the handful of British and Australian riders who are now on the team. Three riders in particular come to mind who will all be hoping to find that breakout win: Lewis Askey, Laurence Pithie and Sam Watson. New arrival and British sprinter Matt Walls will also be one to watch as they look to fill the sprinting gap Démare has left.

Lastly, a lot of eyes will be on French champion Valentin Madouas to make another jump in tough one-day racing, building on his podium finish at the 2022 Tour of Flanders.

Groupama-FDJ’s next breakout rider

Although he was mentioned earlier, and has some success already, Romain Grégoire seems primed to take a huge leap in 2024. The explosive Frenchman already has 11 UCI wins to his name, all before his 21st birthday, and seems bound to add to that tally next year.

Clearly, Grégoire has a nose for racing and a rider profile that already resembles a young Alaphilippe. One more year of physical development, for someone who is so young, should lead to fascinating results.

In reality, Grégoire is one of 10 under-23 riders on the WorldTour team next year. A number of those riders could hit and turn out results at different points in the calendar in 2024, but our bet is that Grégoire will lead that group and will likely get the chance to lead Groupama-FDJ to victory in some smaller races.

What do you think of Groupama-FDJ's 2023 season? Will their commitment to young riders pay off in 2024? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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