What a day, from beginning to end, for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team! Just a few hours after Laurence Pithie’s victory in Australia, the French team scored its second win of the season on the Grand Prix de Marseille-La Marseillaise on Sunday thanks to Kevin Geniets. Also a former member of “La Conti”, the 27-year-old Luxembourger conquered the opening race of the French calendar after a winning move with Alex Baudin, and the key role of Rémy Rochas. Usually a “super-domestique”, the young man also scored his first professional success outside the national championship. Quentin Pacher concluded this great day with sixth place.  

On Sunday morning, the Groupama-FDJ members set to take part in the Grand Prix de Marseille woke up with a small pressure. The one put by their own colleagues on the other side of the world, where they won the first WorldTour Classic of the season. “It was positive pressure,” said Yvon Caër, the team’s sports director. “Another group won, and we told ourselves: “now it’s our turn”. It boosted us! There were smiles everywhere at breakfast. We belong to the same team; it creates a positive momentum. It doesn’t take the pressure off, but it relieves, and it clicked well with the very motivated group we had. Personally, it relieves me more than anything else, and that also prevents from making decisions in a nervous state.” The day was already a real success for the French squad, but they did not intend to stop there. In the first round of the Coupe de France FDJ, the battle plan was clear. “The goal was first of all to make sure not to let an important breakaway go at the start thanks to our youngsters from the Conti Maxime [Decomble] and Thibaud [Gruel],” introduced Yvon. This was done quite well since only five riders took the lead and were easily controlled by the peloton. “Then, we had to be in good position at the foot of the Route des Crêtes and we sacrificed Thibaud, Maxime, Marc [Sarreau] and Cyril [Barthe] so that our three climbers/punchers were right up there at that point,” added the Breton sports director.

“We managed to tick the entire to-do list”, Rémy Rochas

With forty kilometres to go, the bunch passed the top of the Pas d’Oullier, the Groupama-FDJ riders avoided a crash on the descent and were able to execute the plan from the first slopes of the major climb of the day, a few minutes later. “Rémy’s mission was to make the race explode on the Route des Crêtes in order to make a selection,” explained Yvon. “He had to initiate the offensive approach, then Kevin had to follow those who reacted to go”. The theory soon became real. “We had a very precise plan which was to avoid a sprint and play offensive cards, in particular with Kevin who is coming out of an altitude camp and who is in good shape,” added the new-coming climber. “We managed to tick the entire to-do list. It’s rare for this to happen. Everyone did their job to perfection, we arrived very well positioned at the foot of the route des Crêtes and I had to open up the race. Then, Alex Baudin attacked from the peloton with Kevin in his wheel, I waited for them a little, then I pulled as hard as possible.” The Groupama-FDJ rider held on until a kilometre from the summit. “It went as the textbook said,” continued Yvon Caër. “But that always depends on what they have in their legs, and Kevin and Rémy were among the strongest. We got the proof when they attacked. Rémy kept on going at a very high tempo and the goal was to make the biggest gap possible to disrupt the chase. He gave so much that got distanced when Baudin attacked. Kevin didn’t react immediately, but I know he has a big engine, that he’s a pretty good climber, and I wasn’t worried. He managed his effort very well and they went together.”

At the top of the Route des Crêtes, the leading duo had a gap of around twenty seconds over a peloton made up of barely twenty riders, including Quentin Pacher and Rémy Rochas. “We were present everywhere, it allowed us to be solid and to neutralize the attacks or the chase behind,” said Yvon. Starting the last climb of the day, the Col de la Gineste, the gap was reduced to fifteen seconds, but the chasing group was down to fifteen men and started to disorganize. The two men up front took advantage of it to increase their lead to forty-five seconds, and only Kévin Vauquelin managed to place himself in-between and get closer to just twenty seconds as they approached the summit. Then came the descent towards Marseille, but it wasn’t yet time to rest. “I told Kevin to work together with Baudin as long as possible and to ride hard until the last 500 meters because they were still putting pressure behind,” added Yvon. Kevin Geniets and his last rival cooperated until the flamme rouge, at which point the Frenchman decided to stay in the wheel of the Luxembourger. The latter therefore led the two-man sprint set to decide the day’s winner. “I told myself: it’s today or never,” commented Kevin. “I had enough confidence in my sprint to start quite early. My strength really lies in the lactic effort, so I thought that I had to make a really long sprint to beat him this way.”

“These moments make a team”, Yvon Caër

And so he did, as he launched his sprint with almost 300 metres to go. Alex Baudin tried to keep the wheel but was forced to sit down 50 metres from the line, which made it possible for Kevin Geniets to let his joy explode. “With the tailwind, we know that the freshness and the power make the difference,” said Yvon. “I wasn’t even worried.” As for the rider himself, he was above all relieved by this long-awaited personal victory. “This is my sixth professional season and I have often worked for the leaders, so it feels good to finally win a race,” he said. “At the start of this season, I have my own chance. The team put a little pressure on me, but I also put it on myself. I really wanted to finally win a race. It’s an important day in my career.”It’s always great to see this kind of rider being rewarded,” argued Yvon. “A protocol was set up this year so that he could be in good shape from the start, because we know that he’s doing very well at this period of the year. He made sure to come in even better condition for late January/early February because the period and the profiles suit him well. There was a real team strategy behind it, and the fact of being slightly better in these races allows him to win because he is just strong basically. Being usually a domestique, we could fear that he would hesitate a little. But he didn’t. He was very determined.”

At 27 years old, the rider from Luxemburg achieved his first win outside his borders, in an international event, and brought the second win of the season to Groupama-FDJ in less than 12 hours. “We did a great race and Kevin’s victory rewarded us,” added Rémy. “It’s really nice and motivating to start off like this, and it makes you want to get back to it with the team very soon. There is a great momentum, and we hope it will continue”. “These moments make a team, and we need to enjoy it,” concluded Yvon. “Cycling is sometimes irrational. We won two races on the same day, then sometimes there are more difficult times. When you win very early, it brings serenity and happiness! And with that you can go very far.”