Jean-René Bernadeau: “Luz-Ardiden will stay with me forever”
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jean-René Bernadeau: “Luz-Ardiden will stay with me forever”

by Ben Atkins at 3:50 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Europcar manager looks back on his team’s 2011 Tour de France and looks ahead to 2012

jean-rene bernadeauJean-René Bernadeau’s Europcar was one of the teams of the year. Having almost gone out of existence at the end of 2010, after the scheduled withdrawal of then sponsor Bbox Bouygues Telecom, the Vendée-based team was saved at the eleventh hour by the securing of the rental car firm. Not before a number of its biggest stars had jumped ship though, leaving Bernadeau with few of his aces left.

Right from the start of the year though, the team was getting results but the standout performances came on the biggest stage of all, with Thomas Voeckler leading the Tour de France for ten days – and eventually finishing fourth – and Pierre Rolland winning on Alpe d’Huez on the way to securing the white jersey.

This obviously provides Bernadeau with his best memories of the year, as he told an online chat on the team’s website today.

“It is an image that will stay with me forever: the finish at Luz-Ardiden,” he said. “To see my two riders, Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland, with the Tour’s best. A classic image: the top six of the Tour with two of my riders. I waited for 10 years for this.

“Then it was confirmed in the Plateau de Beille,” he added, “an indescribable feeling.”

Rolland’s white jersey was the second classification taken by one of Bernadeau’s riders in as many years, with Anthony Charteau taking the polka-dot mountains jersey in 2010.

“To wear the jerseys into Paris is a huge privilege; these are great moments of my life,” said Bernadeau. “Charteau at the top of the Tourmalet and Pierre Rolland in Grenoble: two huge memories. These are such high goals that everybody dreams of, and very few realise them. We are very fortunate to have done so.”

Building on 2011; looking forward to 2012

thomas voecklerHaving seen the route of the 2012 Tour, Bernadeau, who won the white jersey himself in 1979 while riding for race winner Bernard Hinault’s team, would unsurprisingly like to see more of the same.

“Like last year. I hope all the teams want to ride all of the stages like we do,” he said. “Some may lose their illusions quickly, before the mountains. It’s a course that suits us well; 2010 was very good; 2011 exceptional; 2012 will be a classic every day on a level course.”

Although Voeckler came within two days of winning the Tour, and achieved France’s best finish in more than a decade, it is in Rolland that the team has hopes for future glory. Bernadeau is anxious not to put too much pressure on the 25-year-old’s shoulders though.

“Pierre has already shown an enormous amount,” he explained. “I do not ask him anything but the public will ask a lot. He has an ambition and justifiable pride. He knows what he can do. Barring accidents, he will arrive at the Tour on top form. He’s also talking about Paris-Nice...”

With Rolland and Voeckler, Bernadeau has two different riders, who he feels will work well together in future Tours de France.

“Right now, Pierre has an ambition for the general classification,” he said. “He rode a good time trial in Grenoble, and he’s working on his time trial equipment. Thomas will be a free electron at the Tour. We must not forget that what matters to him is to win, not to assure himself a placing. Thomas is a winner.

“Pierre, I see very focused on the general classification,” he added. “Their ambitions are not in conflict; they compliment one another. I can build something on the sincerity between them.”

Despite all the success, there were a number of “might-have-beens” in Europcar’s Tour de France; not least the early withdrawal of French time trial champion Christophe Kern, who was forced out of the race with a knee injury.

“Christophe was sorely missed, but then you can be full of dreams,” Bernadeau conceded. “Kern in the top 10; if Pierre didn’t get caught behind the split into Châteauroux; we could have placed three riders in the top 10.

“But cycling is not mathematics,” he added.

With a 2012 Tour route seeming to favour the time triallists over the climbers Bernadeau sees the 2011 winner as the favourite for a second victory in Paris next July.

“[Cadel] Evans for a double,” he said. “He will be in a really good team and he is better than Contador in the time trial.”

Although the Australian is favourite this time, Bernadeau finally feels that a French rider has a chance to win the race in the coming years.

“It’s possible,” he said.

Aiming to retake his seat at cycling’s top table

Bernadeau’s team was part of the sports first division ProTour until 2009, when it was forced to make way for the bigger budget RadioShack and Sky Procycling teams. Europcar has applied to rejoin what is now the WorldTour in 2012 though, and following a successful year Bernadeau is hopeful of success.

“We have made our application,” he confirmed. “We are hopeful, but we will stay on the same course, so we'll see. Given the problems that certain other teams are having, we could pay seriously.

The team has taken on three more riders for 2012, while losing one, but Bernadeau acknowledges that he will need to add more if he manages to secure a ProTeam license.

“If we get into the WorldTour [then we will look for more riders],” he said, “otherwise we have completed our recruitment.”

That recruitment is not always easy for a lower budget team, particularly one in France. It is not for no reason that the team’s roster is almost entirely made up of French riders, as he explained.

“We began negotiations with [Thor] Hushovd, [Sylvain] Chavanel and [Filippo] Pozzato,” said Bernadeau. “The Italian would have given us momentum in the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, but we could not have him because it's difficult to conduct three-way negotiations: between the rider, the manager and the rider’s agent.

“Taxation in France is penalising,” he added. “Cycling is not about money; it’s about going after ideas. We want riders who want to come home; desire is more important than money!”

No longer cycling at two-speeds?

pierre rollandVoeckler and Rolland’s successes at the Tour, as well as a number of successes from other French riders, has given the Tour’s host nation hope and confidence that they can win once more. After more than a decade of complaining of “cyclisme a deux-vitesses” following the Affaire Festina, where French riders have complained that riders from outside France are able to dope and leave them behind, they are beginning to win once again.

“Today, the French teams win,” said Bernadeau. “For 10 years we have been mocked. It's not that we lack ambition. What makes me dream most is to build a champion, rather than to buy one. Things can change quickly.”

Whether he feels the rise of France is due to the reduction in doping in other nations though, Bernadeau refuses to be drawn.

“They win because it is natural that France, the cycling nation, must find its place again,” he said. “I do my work with a conscience. Don’t expect me to settle any scores; I have my ideas and I keep them to myself.”

So, what the Europcar manager hopes to see in he future is simple:

“A human cycling in which the joys, sorrows, failures and attacks have filled our screens,” he said. “We’ve been hoping for it for a long time.”


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