After going through the revamped Chambery CF line-up, it is time to get a taste of the up and coming talent in the French amateur ranks. With three divisions of the Coupe de France, it is nigh on impossible to give full previews of each team so let's just focus on the U23 talent through the first division plus some select picks after that. After you...
The Energizer bunnies (one of their main sponsors) of the PACA region are back once again with a mix of younger and older riders, many of whom are focused on climbing including non-U23s like Yoann Barbas and Alexis Dulin. A club since 1925, the Elite team has a U23s to keep an eye on in Brit Alex Braybrooke. The reserve squad also includes an interesting talent in Masahiro Ishigami, a Japanese rider who had a rough introduction into the U23 ranks but showed promise as a junior.
One of the perennial contenders in the Coupe de France, the team from the far east (of France) currently has 12 former riders that are now professional (World Tour and Pro Continental) including two from last year's team, Leo Vincent (FDJ) and Fabien Doubey (Wanty Groupe-Gobert). A big signing for them was junior standout Alexys Brunel, who was the European Junior TT Champion along with winning the Chrono des Nations. Brunel can also climb fairly well and he used his time trial abilities to solo to a win in the Gent-Wevelgem Juniors.
After a couple of seasons with Division 2 squads, UK-born Irishman Mark Downey moves up to Division 1, where he will take his all-around talents to the road, where he seems to always do well in the GC of French national races but is still searching for a breakout result. He is a talent on the velodrome where he has a penchant for the points race, where he was 2nd in the European U23 Championship and won the latest World Cup in Apeldoorn.
Past these two, Paul Sauvage is coming over from CR4C Roanne and while his 2016 was a bit off from his strong 2015. He does well on flat to hilly courses and should get plenty of opportunities with Etupes.
This team is not as strong as they have been in previous years after losing riders like Corentin Ermenault, Marc Fournier, Benoît Daeninck and Turgis brothers over the last few seasons. They don't really have any standout U23s talents but do keep an eye on Julien Van Haverbeke, who had a few good results in sprints.
CC Villeneuve Saint-Germain
Located up in Hauts-de-France, CCVSG has a high percentage of U23s (14 to be exact) on their 18 man roster but they are going to have an uphill road to turn around their next to last finish in the DN1 standings last season as they lack experience. One of the notable signings was Finnish Niklas Henttala, the brother of Team Type 1 rider Joonas. He did pretty good in the Ukranian UCI races so he could provided the team some much needed results.
While Roanne might be most famous for Salmon & Sorrel from La Maison Troisgrois, gastronomy isn't the only thing happening there. The team didn't have a ton of turnover from last year, only losing three and gaining three back. One of their better non-U23 riders is Lucas Papillon, who has ridden well in both the Ronde de l'Isard and Tour du Pays de Savoie the last couple of years.
Simon Guglielmi, Louis Pijourlet and Julien Roux are probably the best U23s the teams have. Guglielmi had a very good last year with only one win but 27 top ten finishes in mainly national races. Pijourlet is a good time trialist and has been rotating with the French national track squad, where he got a bronze in the team pursuit at the Apeldoorn World Cup. Roux is a developing climber who should like some of the hillier stage races like l'Isard and Savoie.
The other U23 to watch is Valentine Deverchere, who won three times in the early summer and finished high on GC in a few races, including the Tour du Pays Roannais.
Creuse Oxygène Guéret
After finishing 2nd in the DN2 classification, Creuse Oxygène is making the move to the DN1field in what will be only its 5th season in the entire Coupe de France. They are going to rely on Maxime Le Montagner, Kevin Fouache and Nicolas David for results.
In terms of U23s, Lucas Grall had some good sprint results at l'Abitibi last year. Theo Menant is a former French Junior RR champion who had a pretty good ride at Roubaix with 26th that he will be looking to improve.
GSC Blagnac VS 31
The main team from the southwest, GSC Blagnac VS 31 lost two important riders in Romain Campistrous and Alexis Guerin but they are brining on a good host of riders incluing Brit Stefan Bennett, Boris Zimine and Yoan Verardo
The notable U23 is Maxence Moncassin, who is the son of former pro Frederic Moncassin, who is joining the team as a DS this year.
This team isn't looking quite as strong as they did in the past few years so they will be looking to get some nice surprise results in big races.
This team is lucky they are still in the DN1 after a year where they scored only 40 points (the winners Chambery CF scored nearly 1000) but that doesn't mean that they are completely dead in the water. They have some "older" riders like Ronan Racault and Stephane Duguenet that can produce while they signed two Moroccan riders in Anass Ait El Abdia and Medhi El Chokri.
He isn't a U23 anymore but Ait El Abdia finished 22nd in the Elite Men's World Championships in Doha, which is probably the definition of punching above your weight. If he concentrates on the DN1 events, he could be a big part of the team moving up the table. El Chokri is a great non-traditional U23 talent. The Moroccan finished 5th on the opening stage of the Zavod Miru U23 Nations Cup as well as finishing the Tour de Bretagne, Tour Alsace, Tour de l'Avenir as well as 2nd in the Tour de Cote d'Ivoire.
I have a feeling this team won't be repeating their last place from this year.
The other team from the Pyrenees is still a bit of a work in progress and will be looking to get out of the basement of the DN1. On the non-U23 front, new signing Bruno Armirail will be looking to find his time trial form that saw him win the French U23 title a few years ago. On the U23 front, the have the Cabanel twins, Thomas and Vincent, who had some decent results last year so here is hoping.
Océane Top 16
While they are located in the Nouvelle-Aquataine region, I am saying that they are more west central France than the southwest. Past that picadillo, this squad is losing a big name in Mathias Le Turnier, who is moving on to Cofidis, but they do keep Yoann Paillot, the time trial phenom who should most likely be on a professional team, and Clement Saint-Martin, who is good on a variety of terrain. They aren't adding a bunch of talent though non-U23 Jayson Rousseau looks interesting with a lot of top 10 finishes.
Stay tuned for Part 2 from the rest of the French Division 1 classification