This is how a stage of La Volta is experienced from the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale car

Road 21/03/24 12:00 Migue A.

The Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale team opened the doors of their car for us to experience the third stage of the Volta a Catalunya 2024 from the inside. A day that promised to be tough for the riders -177 km and 3,925 m of positive elevation with a finish in Port Ainé- but also a luxury opportunity to see the inner workings of a renewed team.

From the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale car: the stage from a different perspective

The winter cold and rain from the second stage were now history, and the sun appeared to welcome the 171 cyclists gathered in the town of Sant Joan de les Abadesses to start the third stage of the Volta a Catalunya 2024. The organization had prepared a tough test of almost 177 km marked by three climbs -a first-category climb and two special-category climbs- totaling an impressive 3,925 meters of positive elevation.

Tadej Pogacar was already attracting all the attention before getting on the bike, and the pedals only replaced the fans' mobile phones - who crowded around the UAE bus - with the camera lights. The Slovenian was the focus of the race, and the strategy was to try to make a breakaway in which the Decathlon AG2R team had to get involved.

Didier Jannel, sports director of the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team, opens the door of one of the team cars and invites us in. The space is tight, and the day progresses with walkie-talkies, phone calls, papers with many colors and numbers, and screens with more colors and numbers. Behind sits Luis Lamas, team mechanic, next to four wheels and a toolbox.

We are in the second race car and we head out before the start to begin covering kilometers. The goal: be with the breakaway if any of the team's dark blue jerseys are in it; if not, we will have to stop at some point to provide supplies. And goal number two: check the road and give notice if necessary - like a dangerous entrance to a tunnel in the first descent of the day that prompts Didier to grab the walkie-talkie.

The entry of Decathlon as the main sponsor of the team has brought about a small revolution within the structure. In broad strokes, the changes are based on three pillars: more money, more staff, and an extra dose of ambition. The well-known increase in budget has been combined with an expansion of the staff as confirmed by Luis, who explains that they have sought professionals with more specialized profiles and roles.

Luis also emphasizes the level of involvement with which Decathlon embarked on the project. Designing a top-level bike is a complex task, and to develop the Van Rysel RCR Pro, the French conducted a thorough analysis of all the bikes in the World Tour. On one hand, through wind tunnels and torture racks; on the other, through feedback and sensations from the riders.

The breakaway is a reality, and Nico Prodhomme is in it. We stick to the plan, and Didier slows down so they can catch up with us. After a change of sunglasses, we join the line of cars escorting the breakaway. However, the escapees struggle to open a gap with a peloton - led by Visma - determined to prevent the breakaway from succeeding.

The lead is insufficient, and it soon becomes evident that the peloton will swallow up the escapees relatively easily. Didier accelerates to climb the Port de Cantó, and alongside Luis, he prepares to provide supplies to his riders. We set off, and the integrated screen of the Citroen becomes a television to follow the race through the images.

The Van Rysel RCR Pro - weighing close to 7 kilos - look impeccable in the car. Luis explains that bike maintenance is simple and that in November, Decathlon organized a visit to the Btwin Village in Lille to provide training. In addition, the cyclists, as the mechanic himself affirms from the back seat, acknowledge that they have a better machine than last season.

Van Rysel signs the bikes, the helmets, and the team's sunglasses. Although they also have a clothing line, this is handled by Rosti because they still have a valid contract, although next season Decathlon may take over. The tools do not bear the French giant's stamp either, as they have chosen to allow the team to use other brands; in fact, they are waiting for Beta to deliver new tools as they come on board as a sponsor.

The Citroen of Decathlon AG2R arrives at the foot of Port Ainé, although there are still several minutes left to reach the summit. Pogacar, who is several kilometers ahead, attacks relentlessly. Landa tries to resist as best he can, but the outcome is unsurprising: Pogacar arrives solo and consolidates his lead.

Meanwhile, the Citroen navigates through snow-filled ditches and cyclists whose legs are getting heavier. Bottle change to face the final ramps, and everything happens quickly: a stop just before the finish line next to the bus, waiting for the cyclists, and heading to the hotel.



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Así se vive una etapa de la Volta desde el coche del Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale


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Assim se vive uma etapa da Volta a partir do carro da Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale


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Ainsi se vit une étape de la Volta depuis la voiture du Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale