The collaboration has just started, and it will go on for a while. A member of the juniors program of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team since this season, 16-year-old Karl Sagnier will continue his development with the French organization over the next four years. The objective is clear: reaching the WorldTour level.

As a symbol, the paths of Groupama-FDJ and Karl Sagnier crossed for the first time on the Trophée Madiot last year. With the Vélo Club Controis’ jersey, the young man won in Saumur, claimed a podium in Lannilis and placed fourth in the general classification. “We indeed spotted him on the Trophée Madiot, but also on the track,” explains Joseph Berlin-Sémon, a coach and scout for “La Conti”. “He’s a pure sprinter and already has well-developed qualities on the road. It’s a profile that really caught our eye. He already has a sprinter character, but he is also a calm rider, and everything goes very well with him in the team.” Since last winter, the young man has indeed entered the juniors program, set up a few seasons ago by the Groupama-FDJ structure. He therefore follows both a program with the U19 Fenioux Indre and a few appointments with the team. For instance, he took fifth place in the Nokere Koerse Juniors but also participated in the Gipuzkoa Klasika with Baptiste Grégoire, the eventual winner. “In a race that did not really suit him, he gave 100% and was there to help his teammates,” adds Joseph.

“The calendar is very open, for him to feel secure and serene in his development”, Marc Madiot

With his club, he also won the Trophée de la Ville de Châtellerault and a stage of the Tour du Bocage et de l’Ernée 53. Following these first convincing months, an agreement was found between Karl Sagnier and Groupama-FDJ to extend this collaboration until 2028. “It all happened quite quickly after his very good results but also given his state of mind and his way of racing,” explains Joseph. “We first agreed within the team on a possible project that we could share with him. The goal is really to be part of long-term support, with a coherent and well-established development.” “He’s expected to join “La Conti” and the WorldTeam in the medium term,” specifies Marc Madiot. “We agreed on a four-year deal, but there isn’t any deadline for every step of the way. It’s more of a trust relationship, focused on a goal which is naturally the WorldTour in the long term. If it has to take one more year, it will take one more year, if it takes one year less, so much the better. There isn’t a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. The calendar is very open, precisely for him to feel secure and serene in his development, in order to get as quickly but most importantly as well prepared as possible in the professional world”.

Still a U16 last year, Karl Sagnier can already look to the future with some peace of mind. “I’m super happy, because I work hard on and off the bike, and I do everything seriously to make it work,” said the young man. “So, when Groupama-FDJ offers you a four-year deal, it makes you proud, and it makes your family proud. You then think that you don’t do all this for nothing. It’s not really a pressure. On the contrary, it takes the pressure off. Because of it, I can try more in racing, risk big to win more, even if it means losing from time to time.” “This is the first time we announce a rider will join both the Conti and the WorldTeam”, adds Marc Madiot. “Before, it wasn’t necessarily written in black and white, but it was so in fact. It is just a bit more officialised, particularly with the establishment of the juniors program. We do not invest in the short term. For us, it is simply a trust relationship being formalized between the rider, the parents, and the team, while maintaining the link with the rider’s club. This should make it possible to find a balance that suits everyone, and brings peacefulness where things are sometimes a bit turbulent”.It’s another step forward,” says Joseph. “This shows that we are not afraid to commit, and it makes things clearer, so that the athlete is confident with the project and can look to the medium/long term. With the increasing competition, this also allows us to secure the athletes over a certain period of time in order to work calmly with them, without worrying about the possible requests they will receive”.

“We can develop riders and win their loyalty over the longer term”, Joseph Berlin-Sémon

In the past, Eddy Le Huitouze and Lenny Martinez also experienced the three levels of the team’s structure, but the long-term plan with Karl Sagnier is a proof of greater attention and support for the youngsters. “We have a new process, and we’re trying it with him,” explains Marc. “We have strengthened the entire process this year, and we will intensify all this further in the near future. Developing young athletes is still the core of the project, but it started a long time ago with the Fondation of La Française des Jeux, at a time when no one was interested in young riders. We want to show them that we make room for them. We don’t take young riders for the sake of taking young riders. We take them for them to become leaders, and we have shown this for a number of years. Almost all of our leaders come from courses that we have followed in one way or another. It’s in our DNA, it’s a team tradition.” “We show young riders that we believe in their project from the junior years onwards,” Joseph certifies. “We still follow the U23s, but there is a high level and a great density in the juniors, and we must show that we can offer them very interesting plans.” Karl Sagnier, who dreams to wear the Tour’s green jersey one day, was convinced pretty quickly: “I really like how things are working since the start of the year, with the staff and the riders, and I thought: why not commit long term and be serious about it?”

Although settling a long collaboration at such an early age is still rare, it is however a real, current dynamic. “The sport is evolving, and so is cycling,” says Marc. “What we need to do is not make mistakes and provide good support, but I’m not worried because we’ve been doing it for a long time, so we’ll be able to continue doing it. If we look at the statistics, the success rate we have with young riders is almost unrivaled to be honest.” “There’s always a small risk when you sign a long-term contract, but in this case, it’s close to zero,” says Joseph. “We know Karl’s abilities, we know where we want to take him and how to work with him. 5-6 years ago, we were more likely to sign a young U23. We are now moving towards the youngest. It gets people talking, but you have to move with the times. We are also getting closer to some other sports, but everyone should know that in an organization like ours, the riders are as well supported as in other disciplines. It doesn’t scare me personally, but it’s certainly a change and we need to adapt the development plan. One might think we make them dream too big, but for us, everything is well defined, planned, and the project is clear. We are simply expanding our detection and recruitment horizon. This way, we can develop them over the longer term, but also engage and win their loyalty over the longer term with the team.”