After nearly 10 years, French banking group Credit Agricole will end its backing of the green-and-white clad outfit, which among others has helped fine-tune the talents of Australian Stuart O’Grady and Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd – as well as making the company a household name.
But while there is plenty of regret – and uncertainty as to whether a new backer can be found for next season – team manager Roger Legeay is determined his troops go out with a winning attitude.
“We’ll be going out and giving it our all this season,” said Legeay Thursday as he unveiled his cosmopolitan, 27-man team which includes the likes of Australians Simon Gerrans and Mark Renshaw.
Gerrans recently arrived from AG2R and will be expected to put himself in contention for victory in the big, and smaller, stage races.
Following the departure of Kiwi Julian Dean for Slipstream, Britain’s Jeremy Hunt, arriving from Unibet, will be called upon with Renshaw and French duo Sebastian Hinault and William Bonnet to help lead out Hushovd in the sprints.
Since the departure of another Australian, O’Grady, a few years ago to Cofidis then CSC – with whom he won the prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic last year – Hushovd has become the team icon.
It’s almost surprising the team has not had a tinge of red, white and blue – from the Norwegian flag – incorporated into its race garb.
Since joining Credit Agricole shortly after being crowned under-23 world time trial champion, the powerfully-built 30-year-old has done the team proud winning the Tour de France yellow jersey, its green jersey for the tough points competition and claiming a total of five Tour stages.
Despite the impending end to the team, Hushovd was in high spirits at the team’s training camp in the south of France.
“There’s a great atmosphere,” said Hushovd, who will prepare for his usual stint at the big one-day classics by racing the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy on March 12-18.
For Legeay meanwhile the search continues, but the Frenchman – despite his aim to leave the upcoming season high on success – remains committed to one of his passions, the fight against doping.
“I won’t tolerate victory at all costs,” said Legeay, who is also president of the Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC), an ethics body set up in the wake of Floyd Landis’s positive test at the 2006 Tour de France.
One top Credit Agricole banking director, Jacques Lenormand, claims the company’s decision was purely down to business – and not based on bad publicity generated by the dirty side of the sport.
“We actually have a lot to thank cycling for,” said Lenormand.
Meanwhile, for Legeay – who in previous years persuaded companies such as Z and Gan to back his team of cycling stars – it could be a busy season outside the peloton.
Despite his experience, and current stature within the European peloton, he admitted: “It will be a big challenge to find a new sponsor.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008