AG2R La Mondiale presented with increasingly international line up
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Thursday, January 05, 2012

AG2R La Mondiale presented with increasingly international line up

by Ben Atkins at 12:55 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
French team unveils Iranian rider; no Tour de France for John Gadret as he takes aim at the Giro d’Italia

john gadretAG2R La Mondiale was presented in Paris today, seeing in the French ProTeam’s twenty-first season in the professional peloton. Having finished seventeenth of the eighteen teams in the International Cycling Union (UCI) WorldTour last season though, team manager Vincent Lavenu will be hoping for stronger results – and a little more luck – in 2012.

The majority of the team’s mostly-French 2011 roster is remaining, but Lavenu has made some high profile international acquisitions. Sprinter Jimmy Casper is the one high-profile signing from l’Hexagone; the team has added another sprinter in Italian Manuel Belletti, but the all headlines are about Iranian Amir Zargari, one of the few riders from the middle east to make the journey to Europe.

Zargari finished third in the Asian Continental Tour in 2011, and the points he gained helped AG2R La Mondiale secure its place in the sport’s top-twenty; thus retaining its place in the WorldTour. Interestingly the Iranian won’t be the only rider from the Islamic Republic in next year’s WorldTour peloton, with compatriot Mahdi Sohrabi – the winner of the Asia Tour – signing for Lotto-Belisol, which had a similar positive consequence for the Belgian team.

Despite the signing of the Iranian rider being a big factor in the team keeping its seat at the sport’s top table, Lavenu denied that it was the only reason.

“There is a political will at the UCI [International Cycling Union] to encourage emerging countries to come to compete [in Europe],” he told Eurosport. “We signed him as part of this."

Advice on the rider’s quality, Lavenu says, came from Daniel Gisiger, former head of the UCI’s World Cycling Centre.

“He told me that he was a big talent, both for his sporting level and for his excellent mentality,” said Lavenu.

While Zargari is an undoubted talent on the bike, the contrast between the Islamic Republic of Iran to the secular state of France – where the wearing of the burka or niqab face veil has been illegal since April last year – could provide something of a culture shock.

“It’s a gamble,” Lavenu admitted. “He will come over for periods of a month and a half, which will allow him to regularly return to his family, and he will stay in Chambéry [where the team is based] when he is in France.”

John Gadret vows to avoid the “mistakes” of 2011

Arguably AG2R La Mondiale’s biggest result of 2011 was John Gadret’s fourth place in the Giro d’Italia, where he also picked up a stage victory. Unfortunately, like Giro winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), the cyclocross specialist found himself jaded at the Tour de France after the toughest Corsa Rosa in years; Contador slumped to fifth place – his worst finish since his first Tour win in 2007 – while Gadret abandoned the race before it even reached the Pyrénées.

“It was a mistake; I won’t be doing it again,” said Gadret to l’Equipe. “I rode both races in 2010, and Hubert Dupont did it last year [finishing twelfth and 22nd respectively – ed], but defending a fourth place is not easy.”

Concentrating on just the Giro in 2012, Gadret believes he can make the podium of the race this time.

“The course is a little less difficult than last year, but it’s still Italy,” he said. “I know that I’ll be expected, but I think I can go better than fourth.”

Lavenu also has confidence that his rider will be able to compete in Italy once more. “Last year there were three ahead [of Gadret]; one of which was Alberto Contador,” he said. “There will be one less competitor [this time].

“Last year it was said that we forced [Gadret] to ride the Tour de France, but it was him who made the decision.”

Without Gadret, AG2R La Mondiale still has options at the Tour, with Dupont himself, Nicolas Roche and 2011 tenth place Jean-Christophe Péraud all able to step into the ‘cross rider’s shoes.

The team will continue to ride Kuota frames, equipped with SRAM components and Reynolds wheels; racing kit will be largely unchanged, with the white jersey dotted with the sponsor’s blue and brown logo, and those love-‘em-or-hate-‘em chocolate brown shorts.

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