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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Special Edition Cycling News for January 28, 2004 team presentation

By Chris Henry

How to top a terrific 2003?
Photo ©: Chris Henry/Cyclingnews

The last of the French team presentations was held Wednesday, January 28 in Paris as presented its 20 man roster for 2004. Led by the brothers Marc and Yvon Madiot, is a team of young talent and a camaraderie between the riders that is not easily replicated throughout the professional peloton.

Madiot and his title sponsor, a French lottery, place great importance on the responsible development of young riders, and the six neo-pro's in the 2004 roster are a testament to this focus on the future. In addition, Marc Madiot explained with great pride the fact that 12 of the current riders began their careers with the team. Not to mention the fact that the team's 25 victories in 2003 were achieved by 11 different riders.

Notable departures from the team include world pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins (Crédit Agricole), sprinter Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), and the first breakaway in any race he enters, Jacky Durand (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago). The replacements are young professionals such as Thomas Lövkvist of Sweden, French neo-pro's Jérémy Roy and Fabien Sanchez, cyclo-cross talent Francis Mourey, Freddy Bichot from Barloworld, and Australian track specialist and former junior world champion Mark Renshaw.

Director Marc Madiot
Photo ©: CN ranked 14th in the UCI standings at the end of 2003, and its position will permit participation in all of the World Cup classics, as well as the grand tours. On the program for 2004 are many of the biggest one day races, and as in 2003, the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. The team's goals remain largely the same as in 2003, a wildly successful season which saw the team hit its peak with stage wins and jersey success in the Tour de France. Brad McGee, winner of the prologue in Paris and holder of the yellow jersey for three days, will once again head the charge alongside sprinter Baden Cooke, who himself took a stage and won the green jersey competition.

The team is also gaining notoriety for its close-knit contingent of Australians: McGee, Cooke, Matt Wilson, and the newest addition, Renshaw. Always working for one another, and the team, the Aussies have more than earned the respect of Madiot and the team management. McGee has helped pave the way for his compatriots, particularly Renshaw, who is the first member of McGee's development squad in Australia (McGee-NSWIS) to turn professional in Europe.

Wilson the champ
Photo ©: Mark Gunter

The quartet returned to Australia this winter, returning to Europe with a handful of successes to start the season on a high note. Although McGee fell ill and was forced to forfeit his place in the Tour Down Under, for which he had targeted the overall victory, Cooke came away with a stage win. The unassuming but talented Wilson also realized his biggest goal of winning the Australian national road title in January.

"I'd been training hard all summer, and it was always an objective," Wilson told Cyclingnews after the presentation. "We'd all been working hard and were in great shape, we just didn't know who would win it. I can't wait to wear the jersey in Europe."

Young Swede Thomas Lövkvist and Belgian Philippe Gilbert helped cap a solid performance for the team at the Tour Down Under, as Gilbert won a stage and finished atop the U23 classification, ahead of Lövkvist. With hard racing already in the legs, many members of the team are ready to strike while the iron's hot as the French road season prepares to open in less than a week.

Dynamic duo
Photo ©: CN

"I'm ready to start, and I'd like to get some wins straight away," Baden Cooke said. Cooke will likely race in the first edition of the International Turkish Riviera Tour in February, and use the race both for honing his form, but also to gather some UCI points in the early season. Although he believes a place exists for him in the Australian Olympic team, Cooke knows not to take anything for granted and plans on working hard to secure both good results throughout the season and a spot for the road race in Athens.

Teammate Sandy Casar, who had a breakout year in 2002 with a second place overall in Paris-Nice, will once again target the March stage race.

"I'll try to be present in all the races, but particularly at Paris-Nice," Casar told Cyclingnews. Admitting that his 2003 Tour de France found him a bit tired after a first participation in the Giro d'Italia, Casar added that he would skip the Giro this year and be more specific in his preparations for the Tour, along with selected one day races such as Paris-Camembert.

"I'll start with the GP Marseillaise, the Tour Méditerranéen, then Paris-Nice..." Casar continued. "Of course if I can do something along the way I'll try, but the real goal is Paris-Nice."

McGee too has set Paris-Nice as an objective, though the likelihood of inter-team squabbles seems minimal in the tight-knit FDJeux camp. Typically a man for the stage races, McGee also has his sights set on some one day races, and leaves no doubt as to his ambitions for the summer Olympics in Athens. The Manchester round of the Track World Cup represents another big objective, and an important dress rehearsal for the Olympics, particularly for the team pursuit.

"I've told [Cycling Australia] that my absolute priority is the individual pursuit," McGee explained. "They've asked me to think about the team pursuit as well. I've said to them, if you need me, I'm there to help, but it's not my major goal. I'd be more than motivated to give everything I've got to the team pursuiters, but only if they feel they need me. I don't want to walk in at the last minute and kick some guy out who's been training his ass off for last three or four years."

Just as the road season is poised to kick off in France, will also have two members mixing it in the mud of Pontchâteau, France at the Cyclo-cross World Championships on February 1. The Belgian armada may seem invincible, but Madiot is confident his two top 'cross men, Francis Mourey and David Derepas, will do justice to their selection for France's national team. 2004 roster

Images by Chris Henry/Cyclingnews

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