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by Shane Stokes
September 16, 2015
Photography by Igor Lubinetsky
After a long, stressful period searching for a replacement sponsor for his Europcar team, the new backer of Jean René Bernaudeau’s pro cycling squad has been unveiled.
The French outfit will be backed by the Direct Energie company from January of next year. It will include former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Thomas Voeckler, a winner of four Tour stages, plus three-time Tour stage victor Sylvain Chavanel.
The latter previously raced with Bernaudeau’s Bonjour team between 2000 and 2004, and has said that his move back to the team from IAM Cycling is like returning home.
Also on board for 2016 will be the sprinter Bryan Coquard and the climber Romain Sicard.
The news is positive for French cycling. In 2010 Bernaudeau faced a struggle to find a replacement sponsor for his Bouygues Telecom team, but secured the backing of Europcar at the last moment.
He was once again under pressure to net a new sponsor to take over from the car hire company, thus leading to months of uncertainty.
However the recent deal has saved the team and will ensure it continues next season.
“I chose Direct Energie because I wanted a partner that would be seduced by the long-lasting work I led for the training of riders,” he said in Tuesday’s announcment.
“I am convinced that Direct Energy Cycling team will surprise and bring good vibes to the peloton thanks to its ‘panache’ and fighting spirit.”
The company is France’s third-largest electricity and gas provider, and serves 1.5 million customers in France and Belgium. Last year it generated turnover in excess of €810 million.
It said that the team would be a key asset to the company’s visibility in major French and international races.
Direct Energie’s CEO Xavier Caïtucoli said that becoming the sponsor of the team was a ‘real pride’ for the company and its staff.
“Choosing pro cycling is natural to us as we share common values such as proximity, enthusiasm and taste for effort. And we are both challengers.”
The size of the budget is not known but Bernaudeau has indicated he wants to apply for a WorldTour licence next season.
Either way, as one of French cycling’s biggest outfits, the team seems certain of a Tour de France invite.