There are some things you can set your watch to in professional cycling, and Groupama-FDJ is one such bastion of consistency. With the French team, you can typically rely on a few things: doomed GC bids in the Tour de France, a kit that is the visual representation of La Marseillaise, and, as an equipment sponsor, Lapierre bikes being ridden to a place close to the podium (but crucially, not close enough). But this week that all fell apart with the announcement that the team and their bike sponsor were parting ways after a staggering 22 years, ending the longest-running current collaboration in professional cycling.
This cosmic rupture will take place on December 31, with an as-yet unannounced bike sponsor (rumours suggest Wilier) swooping in to take over. The women’s team FDJ Suez – which shares a naming-rights sponsor, but no other management ties – will continue with their current Lapierre sponsorship.
According to a statement reported by CyclingNews, it was Lapierre that pulled the pin, with the French brand deciding to “take a different road next year”. Lapierre, which is part of the Accell Group, reportedly chipped in €1.5m to the team’s coffers in addition to the bikes, meaning that Groupama-FDJ will either be chasing the same or facing a shortfall in 2024.
Despite being jilted by the French bike brand that has been such an indelible part of the Groupama-FDJ legacy, the team seems fairly philosophical about it. “This is the end of a historic partnership of more than twenty years and we will always remember our great performances on Lapierre bikes,” team manager Marc Madiot reflected. “During these two decades we have co-developed some of the most efficient bikes in the world and it has been a wonderful adventure, full of success.
“We respect Lapierre’s choice to end the partnership. Like every company, Lapierre must make strategic choices. The end of this collaboration is an illustration of this and we are respectful of this decision. Lapierre is and will remain a great bicycle brand.”
Over the 22 years that Lapierre has supplied Groupama-FDJ, bike tech has come a long way. So has the sport itself, in fact. When Lapierre first stepped up to the big leagues, it was midway through the Armstrong era. Carbon fibre wasn’t yet the dominant frame production material, although it was on its way there. Road disc brakes were more than a decade away. Gears were shifted with cables; tyres were skinny and pumped up extremely hard.
At one level it’s a bit sad to see Lapierre leave the mens’ WorldTour (or maybe they’ll end up with another team? Who knows?). But it’s also an interesting opportunity to assess the evolution of the bikes the company created, an avatar for the transition in the sport itself. In a sport currently dominated by bigger brands – Specialized, Trek, Cervelo, Pinarello, Colnago – Lapierre was often a bit more of a plucky underdog, with limited international distribution. Founded in 1948, the company has been a solid-enough performer without a huge marketing budget or cachet. People didn’t buy Lapierres by accident or by default; it’s a brand you have to seek out, a purchase you have to really mean. It’s been many years since I’ve ridden one, but I liked their vibe then and I like their vibe now, and the removal of their swoopy forms in Groupama-FDJ’s change in bike sponsor will make the peloton a slightly more homogenous place. That deeply French, underdog vibe was as perfect a match between team and supplier as you’re likely to find, and something will feel slightly off in 2024 as a result.
Here are some of the key moments in Groupama-FDJ’s long, occasionally prosperous partnership.