While the 2023 season started almost a month ago for the WorldTour Groupama-FDJ cycling team, its development team, “La Conti”, is about to launch its fifth year. Largely renewed over the winter, the Besançon-based team has just completed a training camp in Calpe and is now heading for its first races of the season. The right opportunity to take stock with Joseph Berlin-Sémon, one of the team’s coaches.
Joseph, the Conti’s training camp has just ended. How did it go?
It was a great camp overall. There was really good dynamics within the group. With the Conti, we only do one team camp during the winter, so we hadn’t seen some riders for a long time. It was very useful from this point of view, and the goal was also to take stock of the overall form of the group. All in all, it was a very good training camp because they were able to ride every day, as planned. They did about forty hours of riding over ten days, which is very good.
“Quite a busy camp for the riders”
What was the program of this camp?
We could split it in two parts. During the first four days, it was more focused on individual and specific work, with endurance efforts and testing on the field. We also took the opportunity to work on the time trial position with the mechanics, because some riders had not yet received their bike. Marc and a few people from the Service Course also came by at the beginning of the week, and it was an opportunity for the riders to meet them. There was of course Marc’s little speech, which is always an important moment for the riders, and which allows everyone to be in tune with what’s to come and the team’s philosophy. We then took a rest day, during which our photographer Nico Götz came to take some shots. In the second part of the camp, we were more focused on collective work, with specific work for the climbers, for the sprinters, but also with individual time trial, team time trial, and nice, long rides to take advantage of the good weather. Apart from the sporting part of things, we also organized some interviews with some riders that we had not been able to see during the winter. We could then take stock of the schedule for the start of the season with everyone. It was still quite a busy camp for the riders, but it went very well.
How were the riders, physically speaking?
The group is homogeneous, even if some are a little more ahead than others. Lewis Bower, for example, has already raced in New Zealand, and Noah Hobbs has already done track cycling at the start of the year. Nevertheless, overall, everyone is ready! It was really the last big block of preparation, both in terms of volume and specific work. They will all resume within the next fortnight. Overall, they all have the required level, and even if there are small differences, having a united, solid team should erase these small disparities. I don’t worry about that. We have a young team, but they are already quite mature and there is good communication between them.
It’s indeed a brand-new group. Was it difficult to rebuild a team spirit?
It is true that more than 90% of the group was renewed, because only Eddy was there last year, but the riders themselves created this team spirit from October, when they met for the first time during the interviews in Besançon. Then, they stayed in touch throughout the winter period, and some went on a “personal” camp together. Everything unfolded smoothly between them, and we didn’t need to do much. Coming to Calpe, some had not yet met everyone, especially our riders from Oceania, but team spirit was built very quickly.
“A challenge, but also a motivation”
Did you feel them happy to be there?
Above all, I felt they were motivated. This is really the feeling that stood up from this camp. They all want to learn, improve, and reach the level of their colleagues who are now in the WorldTour after passing through the Conti. They want to do well and keep this “best development team” status. We know that the overall level of the team last year was very very high compared to that of this year, but it is already a good thing to see them motivated and looking forward to putting on a bib.
Are there any noteworthy differences with the Class of 2022?
We obviously make comparisons, not only with last year’s Class but also with those of previous years. When we are training in Calpe, where we know the terrain, we carry out some tests and we have our reference times. We see the differences that can exist. The main one might be on the group as a whole. Last year, we had a lot of riders who had a very high level. This year, we may have a little less, but everyone will improve, and we will try to bring the group to the highest level regardless.
It is also a younger team, the youngest at continental level this year. Can you feel it?
We feel it more with some than with others. We have a very young team, it’s true, and many have barely come out of the junior ranks. It is perhaps from this point of view that we note the most differences. They may be less prepared in some regards. We’re going to have a lot of development work, and that’s a good thing, regarding training or things like nutrition, communication. I think we can bring them a lot. In previous years, we had perhaps more trained riders, with a little bit of experience. The team is certainly a little younger, but overall, they are still very mature mentally. It is for sure a challenge, but also a motivation for us, to set off again on a two-year plan, even a three-year one with some. This will enable us to work over a slightly longer period, to train them differently, and to go step by step, even though that has always been our philosophy.
“The group will quickly find its bearings”
Should we have moderated expectations with this new group?
We are aware that we cannot have the same goals as in 2022, but it must also motivate us, and motivate them, to prove our worth. We cannot hide behind that fact, and we must continue to fight to get results. It may be a little harder at the start of the season, but I think the group will quickly find its bearings. Some riders will probably need to be patient, but some are already ready and definitely have the U23 continental level.
The team will also benefit from automatic wildcards this season.
Having finished in the three best teams in the continental ranking is a real advantage, and it allows us to have the guarantee of participating in the races we want. It also allows us, Conti staff, to be more relaxed about the conceiving of the calendar that we’ll then offer to our youngsters. It was a little more complicated during the first 2-3 years, even if we globally never really had any issues as we benefited from the WorldTour team’s image. This allows us to be more serene at the start of the season, but also in terms of potential signings.
What will be the upcoming program for the riders?
Everything will happen fast, actually, because we resume racing on March 1 in Croatia. The riders just finished the training camp, so they will take a few days’ rest and then it will be quite easy to assimilate all the work done in Calpe. Six riders from the team will leave for Croatia for a dozen days, with two one-day races and a stage race, and the rest of the group will resume on March 4 and 5 in the North of France, with two one-day races. In the end, all the riders will race quite soon. It’s a good thing to stay in the camp’s momentum. They will also all move to Besançon over the next few days, and accommodation distribution was finalized during the camp. The first riders, Dylan and Trym, were already there before the camp, and the rest will arrive in Besançon this week.
In conclusion, how do you feel when you see the ex-Conti riders already performing well with the WorldTour team?
I’m not at all surprised, and I don’t think anyone is. We expected them at this level. It’s a good thing, and I think they have kept their last season’s momentum. They do not look at others, they race and are aggressive while listening to instructions. If they moved up to the WorldTour level, it means they had the required level. Now, we’re going to expect a little more, we hope to see them win, and it won’t take long. They are good examples, that’s for sure. We have had good examples every season, from the first year with Kevin Geniets, who is now a cornerstone in the WorldTour team. Of course, this is a motivation for the youngsters who arrive in the Conti afterwards.