The Groupama-FDJ’s 2023 calendar officially opened on Tuesday morning, on the other side of the planet, with the 23rd Tour Down Under. For a change, a prologue was set to launch the Australian event, and at the end of the course’s 5500 meters, Miles Scotson achieved the best result for the team. The former Australian champion took 14th place on this opening day, sixteen seconds behind the winner and first leader Alberto Bettiol.
After having been deprived of it for two years due to the pandemic, the WorldTour teams were finally back in Australia in January to compete in the Tour Down Under, the usual opening event of the cycling calendar. For the occasion, the race reshaped its course and especially withdrew the iconic summit finish in Willunga Hill while integrating an opening prologue. In Adelaide, it was therefore not a sprint that was to decide the first leader of the event this Tuesday evening. “We knew for a while that we would have a quite technical prologue in Adelaide’s central park, and that it would be competed on traditional bikes”, explained Jussi Veikkanen, a sports director in the Tour Down Under. “It changed our habits a bit, but it’s not so bad. The course was very close to the hotel, so we went there several times to do a recon. We knew it was very technical. Today, the circuit was closed, and the guys were able to take all the turns properly. But it was dry”. Yet that was the fundamental factor of the prologue: the threatening and unpredictable weather. “We established our starting order putting our main guys in the last positions, which many other teams did as well”, added Jussi. Conversely, neophytes Lorenzo Germani, Paul Penhoët, Laurence Pithie and Reuben Thompson were the first to tackle the course between 6:06 p.m. and 7:06 p.m. (Australian time). “The rain started just before Lorenzo left the ramp”, said the Finnish sporting director. “It ruined the prologue for a lot of riders, not just us. The roads were like ice”.
“There was a bit of tension and excitement in the air”, Jussi Veikkanen
Thanks to his early start, the young Italian was able to take advantage of slightly more clement conditions than his former Conti’s teammates. “It was not easy because it was a very short but intense effort, so you had to pay attention to the details,” said Lorenzo. “I was lucky to have a slightly drier road, but since it started raining just before I left, I wasn’t sure if it was slippery or not, so I was still careful”. The Italian came to the line after 6’37 and thus remained in the provisional top-10 for a long time. “It was a big surprise for me, but I’m happy.” “It started to dry out a bit towards the end”, continued Jussi. “Rudy rode with some parts dry, others wet. Miles, who was our last rider at the start, did a good part with dry roads but a few corners were still a bit wet”. Eventually, it was the “local” rider who netted the team’s best time on the line, in 6’35, giving him the 14th final ranking. Lorenzo Germani retained his place in the top-20 (20th) while all the others completed their prologue safely. “Of course, I told them to measure the risks so as not to crash on the first day”, insisted Jussi. “It was important to control your effort and not take unnecessary risks. A lot of guys crashed, and almost all of them in the same corner”.
The start of the season did therefore go well for the seven Groupama-FDJ’s riders, and in particular for the four “newbies” coming from the Conti. “We spent a week here beforehand to take advantage of the good conditions for training, and the four youngsters, like the three “old” ones, were exemplary”, underlined Jussi. “It was the first WorldTour race for several riders, so there was a bit of tension and excitement in the air. In a few days, they will really have discovered what it is to race in the WorldTour, but I don’t worry, they learn fast!” “We have a great team here, I want to learn as many things as possible and help my teammates”, perfectly illustrated Lorenzo. “I hope we will work well together and get good results on the sprint finishes with Paul and on the more difficult stages with Rudy and Michael”. As for the first stage, on Wednesday, everything seems open. “The general classification will decide how the stage will unfold”, said Jussi. “There could be a fight all week.”