A new title sponsor and a shift away from the squad’s iconic brown shorts were just some of the things the rebranded Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale squad announced at a team presentation on Monday, where six new signings were also unveiled. The biggest transfer news highlights are that former Tour de France green jersey winner Sam Bennett and 2023 Tour stage winner Victor Lafay are joining the French outfit for next year.
Lafay, 27, enjoyed a breakthrough campaign this past season and the Frenchman could be a featured rider for the French team for years to come. Bennett, meanwhile, will give the French team something it has not had in years: a well-known sprinter.
For Bennett himself, the two-year deal represents a move to a brand-new environment after the Irishman spent the last two years at Bora-Hansgrohe in what marked his second career stint with that team. It’s also an attempt to get back to his winning ways of a few years ago. “I am hungry,” he told Shane Stokes and the Irish Times. “I want to prove myself. I want to get back to the Tour de France, and to win there again.”
Bennett entered the Pro Continental and then the WorldTour ranks with the squad formerly known as NetApp-Endura all the way back in 2013, and he stayed there through 2019 before leaving for two-year stint with Deceuninck Quick-Step. In his first year on the Belgian squad, Bennett stormed to two stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour, but a knee injury derailed much of Bennett’s season the follow year and the relationship between rider and team soured.
A return to Bora led to some limited success in 2022, but Bennett rode just one Grand Tour in his last two seasons and he won just three minor races in 2023. Now 33, Bennett has not scored a WorldTour victory since he picked up two of them at the 2022 Vuelta a España.
He’ll hope to recapture some of the old magic at Decathlon-AG2R, a team that has not fielded a notable sprinter in recent memory, and which does not have many notable leadout riders either (Dries De Bondt may bring some of Alpecin-Deceuninck’s mojo, and Bruno Armirail’s TT abilities will help in the setup). Then again, there should be plenty of opportunities for Bennett to shine without having to worry about much competition for sprint chances within his own team.
Plus, while the Irish sprinter may seem like a strange fit in a French team that has so often stocked up on climbers, AG2R was among the bottom third of WorldTour squads last year, so it makes sense for management to have engaged in some outside-the-box thinking this transfer season. Bennett may be on the back slope of his career, but he has shown some serious speed when healthy, and the AG2R outfit has been generally short on stars since Romain Bardet left at the end of 2020.
Whether or not Bennett can get back to winning ways remains to be seen, but for a team that also struggled to win bike races even before Bardet departed, he could be a breath of fresh air and a chance for the team’s sponsors to show up in a place they haven’t been seen in years: bunch sprints.
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