FDJ-SUEZ shine despite injuries as Delcourt looks to improve squad on transfer market

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Grace Brown are both out of contract as French squad rely on their depth in 2024 and build for the future

Clock13:41, Thursday 21st March 2024
FDJ-SUEZ on the front at the Santos Tour Down Under in January

© Getty Images

FDJ-SUEZ on the front of the peloton at the Santos Tour Down Under in January

Despite losing Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig to injury and Marta Cavalli still finding her best form, FDJ-SUEZ continue to punch above their weight with four victories already this season, and a roster of exciting prospects in the Spring Classics.

The French team won Le Samyn des Dames courtesy of Vittoria Guazzini last month, and have stage wins in the UAE Tour and Santos Tour Down Under, along with a national time trial title via Grace Brown. Team boss Stephen Delcourt is keen to see his team continue their rich vein of form as he builds the roster for 2025 and beyond.

Team leader Uttrup Ludwig, who is also out of contract at the end of the year, is currently on the sidelines with a fractured sacrum but her absence, as well Cavalli’s continued progression back to her best, has opened up doors for the rest of the riders on the team.

“It’s a busy period because we don’t know if Cecilie comes back for the Ardennes or not. Then Cavalli came back from Trofeo Alfredo Binda but this has given the other riders on the team the chance to lead and to have opportunities for themselves. The best example of that was Le Samyn with Vittoria and we have other cards to play who have more freedom because have less pressure heading into the Ardennes,” Delcourt told GCN.

Much of the team’s Ardennes campaign will rest on whether Uttrup Ludwig can return from injury. She has already been out for almost a month and with the Amstel Gold Race in just a few weeks time, there is only a short window for the Dane to return to health and then find any scraps of possible form.

“We have three scenarios," Delcourt explained. "First is that we’re all in for Évita Muzic. She was fifth in La Flèche Wallonne last year and waited for Cecilie twice due to crashes. The second scenario is that Cavalli comes back at the best level. She’s now at an altitude camp with Évita in Tiede. We hope that she can come back after three weeks of altitude training. The third scenario is that Cecilie comes back. To be honest it’s difficult to see that but we don’t know yet.”

The team’s depth has been instrumental in the opening weeks of the season, with several riders on the roster allowed a greater sense of freedom in races. That tactic has certainly paid dividends with opportunistic performances netting wins and top-10s. Rather than going head-to-head with the likes of SD Worx-Protime in each and every race, the French team have looked to anticipate moves and take risks where some rival teams have opted for a more cautious approach.

“It’s always hard in a period like this. But we have a rider like Jade Wiel who had two years of injuries and has now come back at a really good level. She was one of the best juniors four years ago, and she won the elite French championships four years ago but had two tough years. She’s from the same generation as Guazzini and Marie Le Net, and now it’s time for these riders to create their opportunities,” Delcourt said.

“We also have Grace Brown. She changed her preparation because of the Olympics but with Grace everything is possible. She can attack at any moment and she can destroy the peloton on her own. She has opportunities too.”

While the team continues to perform on the road, Delcourt has the task of reshaping the roster for the future. Both Brown and Uttrup Ludwig are out of contract at the end of the current campaign, and there will be no shortage of riders willing to sign for the team given their track record at developing talent.

Delcourt’s schedule will become busier as the spring progresses, with agents and riders keen to discuss either contract extensions or joining from other teams.

It’s unclear at this point whether Uttrup Ludwig and Brown will stay but Delcourt isn’t ruling anything out at this point.

“That’s on my agenda at the moment and we’re talking a lot at the moment. Maybe it’s a crucial moment for the team and the riders’ careers. I never judge a rider if they want to have another challenge or if they sign a big contract. It’s hard for Cecilie at the moment because when you’re injured it’s hard to negotiate a new deal because you’re focussed on the recovery. We’ve discussed it a lot but at the moment it’s a bit early to say anything,” he said. 

“For Grace, she’s focused on the Classics and she needs time to decide on what she wants to do next. One thing important for Grace, I can never imagine Grace in another team. Many riders do want to sign for our team, I know it’s early, but there’s lots of rumours. From Flanders until the end of the Ardennes, that’s a very busy period for the market. Eleven riders in the top 20 don’t have contracts for next season. Maybe no one changes but maybe every team has one big change, like musical chairs.”

One rider who is on the market for next year is Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, with the French athlete already indicating that she would like to return to the road after winning almost everything in sight in mountain biking and cyclo-cross. So far there have been no discussions with Pauline Ferrand-Prévot’s agency, SEG, and Delcourt, but that will come in the next few weeks.

“I don’t know what she wants but Pauline is an amazing rider who has won all the championships in every discipline. I don’t know if she wants to come back but I’ve read an article she wants to race in the Tour de France one year, but we don’t know if Ineos will create a women’s team for next year. For the moment there have been no discussions but I think her agent wants to talk to me later. It’s hard to see Ineos creating a team but I don’t know for sure,” he said.

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