Even before we hit the global reset button, Chambery Cyclisme Formation's 2017 season got off to a horrible start following the tragic death of Etienne Fabre, who fell to his death while hiking in the mountains. While carrying his memory in their hearts and legs, Chambery CF will be trying to match their success in 2016 in which they won the French amateur Division 1 overall by 53 points over VC Pays de Loudeac.
It was the first time that the Savoy-based club won the overall title in the highest amateur class in France and once again, they graduated a rider, in this case Nans Peters, to their parent World Tour team, Ag2r-La Mondiale. They are already guaranteed that for 2017 as well as Benoit Cosnefroy is making a mid-season move to Ag2r-LaMondiale in August on a full contract. Even with the losses of riders like Peters, Martin Salmon (Sunweb-Giant Development) and Jordan Sarrou, Chambery is still chocked full of talent and adding a few more to their ranks.
It speaks to the health of Chambery CF and their development system that many seem to be trying to copy. Riders must be in a school of some sort or be apprenticing for a career while on the team but still racing at a very high level. The team also provides a lot of education on health and wellness as they believe it builds the base for a strong person. Jon Vaughters is trying to copy this system with his Drapac-Pat's Veg Holistic development team but it is something that takes time to perfect. In its current iteration, Chambery CF began in 2001and it has taken 15 years to climb the rankings from Division 3 to winning the Division 1 ranking. That is time that many structures cannot afford or don't take the effort to cultivate. The end product isn't necessarily churning out the best professional cyclists though they haven't done too bad for themselves as 23 rides have gone professional from their ranks.
Nine riders return to the fold while six join the all U23 squad. Along with Benoit Cosnefroy, it will be Léo Danes, Jaap de Jong, Aurélien Doléatto, Kevin Geniets, Guillaume Millasseau, Aurélien Paret-Peintre, Hugo Pigeon and Rémy Rochas.
Cosnefroy is not a conventional stage race talent like recent French talents. One-day racing and stage hunting is where Cosnefroy will make his money. 2nd in both the Amateur and U23 French RR Championships, Cosnefroy was also 4th in the European U23 RR to go along with 16 other top 10 finishes including a win in the Annemasse-Bellegarde et retour, a race won by the likes of Warren Barguil, Kenny Ellisonde, Thor Hushovd and Giuseppe Guerini. On hilly or flat courses, Cosnefroy looks like he will continue the history of the plucky French rider when he transitions to the pro ranks.
Leo Danès is one for a hilly route though he has yet to translate that to a bigger race. De Jong is a good rouleur that is keen on Paris-Roubaix and will be looking to do well in his final U23 season. Doléatto is a keen climber and after a good first year, he should be able to help out in the finale more while getting some glory of his own.
Since Bob Jungels matriculated to the professional ranks, Luxembourg has been trying to find their next big rider. Alex Kirsch is finding his feet as a pro and Tom Wirtgen has been going alright but Kevin Geniets is looking quite promising after his first U23 season. Winner of the Tour du Beaujolais after he solo'ed to a stage win and taking the prologue at the Tour d'Auvergne, Geniets has some good climbing skills. He was 8th at the European Championships in Plumelec and 15th in the Trofeo Almar so a hilly course seems to suit him well.
In terms of a classics-style rider, Millasseau would probably be as close as Chambery CF get. In his first U23 season, he finished in the top 30 in Paris-Roubaix after a junior career that saw a lot of top 20 finishes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors, Paris-Roubaix Juniors, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and others. He has a pretty good kick on him as well so with a year under his belt, he could be Chambery's rider to watch in flatter one-day races.
Next to Cosnefroy and Rochas, Aurelien Paret-Peintre is probably Chambery's most talented rider though he seems to still be finding his way. Paret-Peintre was a standout junior with overall wins including the Giro di Basilicata and the Tour of Istria as well as the Classique des Alpes Juniors. Paret-Peintre, who hails from the Haute-Savoie department, is a climber but besides his Ronde de l'Isard ride in 2015, where he finished 6th, he hasn't been able to string together a GC campaign in the mountains. He was close in Savoie Mont Blanc but he imploded on the 3rd stage. His Tour de l'Avenir started promising but he wasn't a factor in the mountains. If he can get some of the kinks worked out and works on not wasting energy before the climbs, he could round out into the big threat he showed himself to be.
Don't be mistaken by the small package at 57 kg, Hugo Pigeon isn't necessarily destined for the mountains. Pigeon is a former junior MTB National Champion and was 2nd in the junior cyclocross National Championship. He has marked Paris-Roubaix as his dream race, where he finished 35th this year after getting through the Ronde de l'Isard the week before. He is an all-arounder but without a standout result, his preferred terrain is still to be discovered.
Along with Cosnefroy, Rémy Rochas also got a stagiaire ride with Ag2r-La Mondiale this past season and he made the most of it. In the GP Wallonie, he was a solid 25th on the uphill finish at the Citadel of Namur. He also got across the line in the Tour du Doubs, GP Beghelli and Gran Piemonte. After a successful early season that was capped with an solo, uphill stage win in the Ronde de l'Isard, Rochas was 8th in the hilly Kreiz Breizh Elites, 2nd in the Estivale Bretonne behind FDJ signing David Gaudu and 5th in the downright difficult French Amateur Championships. The local boy from Chambéry most likely will not be developing as an overall contender but whether it is hunting for stages or a hilly one day race, Rochas could find a nice home somewhere down the road.
The six new riders include four juniors in Clément Champoussin, Enzo Faloci, Quentin Grolleau and Anthony Jullien while two current U23s Robin Meyer and Maxime Roger.
Champoussin is the Junior National Champion in MTB and finished 5th in the European Championships in Huskvarna, Sweden. Champoussin had a little success on the road with a few smaller wins but without any international rides, it will be hard to say how he will turn out.
Despite the Italian name, Enzo Faloci is quite French. When you share a scooter driver with Mikael Chérel, you are destined for 8 years as a professional hopping between Ag2r, FDJ and Cofidis. He was 2nd in the Classique des Alpes Juniors but he isn't a slouch on the flat either so he should be a potential all-arounder. Plus the peloton always needs another Enzo.
Coming from VC La Pomme Marseille Juniors, Grolleau is another climber coming to the team. 3rd in the Classique des Alpes Juniors in 2015, he isn't just a mountain dwelling wraith as Grolleau was 3rd in the National Junior Road Race and also 2nd in the Junior Scratch on the track. He did beat future teammate Champoussin in the Tour PACA Juniors on the 2nd stage but Champoussin did win the overall.
While he doesn't have any big wins of note, Anthony Jullien is probably the most seasoned junior coming on board in terms of international riding experience. He seems to do well on a undulating courses and could see some success in flat to hilly stage races and in one-day classics.
Robin Meyer comes from Aix en Provence and had a good year last year with a 4th in the Souvenir Jean-Masse DN1 race, won the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur Championship and 7th in the French U23 Championships.
Speaking of DN1 success last year, Maxime Roger won the DN1 finale at the GP Blagny-sur-Bresle in a small sprint, which is a huge win for a rider that just began racing on the road in 2015. Very strong against the clock who will most likely target time trials but should be good on flat to rolling races.
Even with the loses they have incured, Chambery CF has the strength to take the DN1 classification again in 2017. This is a team structure that more should be paying attention to now and going forward.
Stay tuned for more quick hits about French development teams going into 2017.