Blazin' Saddles

Sacre Bleu! French to launch their own Team Sky

Blazin' Saddles

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If you can't beat them, copy them. That is the stance taken by the French Cycling Federation who this week took a large step forward in creating their own version of the British Team Sky.

For years the public were force fed French cycling victories at the same rate as grain was shoved down the throats of the proud nation's ducks.

But just as the world's stance on foie gras has tightened, so too have the victories dried up. The legends of Anquetil and Hinault are now long forgotten. It is almost 30 years since France last topped the podium of her own national stage race.

To make matters worse, les rosbifs have suddenly become rather magnifique - winning their first two Tour de France titles in succession on the back of Dave Brailsford's Team Sky juggernaut.

After Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour in 2012, FFC president David Lappartient went on record to voice his desire to create what he described as a "Team Sky a la francaise".

One year on, and things are beginning to take shape.

On Thursday a new French national velodrome was unveiled on the outskirts of Paris. The French capital's first covered cycling track in 55 years has been earmarked as a cornerstone in helping stem the recent tide of British dominance on the track.

(Just don't mention the fact that the new 68-million-euro velodrome was the only tangible legacy of Paris's failed attempt to pip London to host the 2012 Olympics).

The seeds of Britain's current hegemony in global cycling are viewed by many as being sown on the track, with the likes of Wiggins and Mark Cavendish being nurtured by Brailsford & Co at the Manchester velodrome, which opened in 1994.

To mark the inauguration of France's new national velodrome - for which the French hold similarly lofty hopes - a special exhibition match took place between France and Great Britain, resulting in a glorious whitewash of wins for the home nation (although, to be fair, the wheels of the track bikes were probably not the only things that were fixed).

The event garnered more publicity than expected when the French celebrity gossip magazine Closer allegedly sent a photographer along to take photos of the man driving the Derny, who they suspected to be President Francois Hollande (a well-used helmet the apparent give-away).

Speaking at the glitzy event, FFC managing director Olivier Queguiner outlined the aims of the proposed new French WorldTour team, which would use the new velodrome as its headquarters.

"The main objective is to participate in the Tour de France and to win the Tour with French riders," he said. "But there is also the am of the Olympic Games, which is maybe a difference to other projects. We are focusing on athletes in all disciplines."

The team is expected to employ around 100 people, including 60 cyclists, but it is not likely to be rolled out before 2016. The FFC are currently looking for a title sponsor - preferably from one of France's major brands, although international sponsors have not been ruled out (just as long as they are not British).

One international brand in line for extensive talks is Coca Cola, with a proposed Sky-riling campaign of 'Coke Zero Tolerance' under consideration.

Michelin are said to be in talks to provide "special wheels" for the French track cycling team.

Indeed, there would be no limit to interesting tie-ups between the new WorldTour team and iconic French brands. For instance, Brioche La Boulangere could double up with Evian to create the first official mainstream "paniagua" team. As directeur sportif, Thomas Voeckler - whose surname phonetically echoes the French for "clear water" - would further enhance the team's USP.

Between them, Peugeot and Renault could come up with a super-bus to rival Sky's "Death Star" while Lacoste would certainly make a stylish kit supplier. Get Louis Vuitton on board and the team's musettes would be the pride of the peloton.

A merger with one of the current French WorldTour teams has not been overruled, with FDJ looking like an obvious choice because of its already-strong patriotic links.

Given that it was lottery funding that helped deliver the goods for Britain's riders on the track, this would be another sensible avenue for the FFC to pursue in their ostensible bid to copy the British model piecemeal.

Brown shorts would probably scupper Ag2R's chances of involvement, but Europcar would be an interesting option - not just because of the track pedigree of young sprinter Bryan Coquard and the Brailsford-lite characteristics of avuncular Jean-Rene Bernaudeau.

There's no denying that Europcar's green kit would look good with, say, Perrier or Badiot added as an extra sponsor (although there are obvious concerns about following Gerolsteiner down the fizzy water path).

More developments are expected to be made by FFC in the near future - including taking out advertising space in Australian newspapers to offer employment for swimming coaches looking to broaden their horizons with a stint in Europe.

So far, there is no truth in rumours that French youngsters Romain Bardet and Warren Barguel - who the FFP have targeted as lynchpins for the project going forward - have been instructed to start growing bushy sideburns. Such gossip seems unlikely, however, because it would put the project's start date back until 2017 at the earliest.

Felix Lowe | Follow on Twitter

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