And so, after a decade-and-a-half, cycling’s most-cited statistic can finally be deployed in the past and not the present tense.
For 15 years, Cofidis have been cycling’s whipping boys, the constant butt of many a Tour de France joke. For most fans, they were making up the numbers, at times invited to participate purely because of the flag next to their name, and not because of their sporting criteria.
Wherever the big, travelling circus went, Cofidis followed, hiding like shy and sometimes shamed kids, not fitting in, and not really even trying to. Bike races came, bike races went, and Cofidis were just about the only anonymous figures in the world’s most spectated sporting event.
They were derided, laughed at; they had become a byword for hilarious failure. Among the cycling press, July was synonymous with quoting Cofidis’ long, barren run without a Tour stage win, just as it was for any given generic media outlet in calculating how many equivalent Big Macs a cyclist consumes during a race day. Every year it was the same, a rough and unloved rinse and repeat.
And then to the 2023 Tour de France. A team of eight riders was selected, all tasked with one very simple, clear objective: to secure the team’s first stage win at their home Grand Tour – the one race that actually really, really matters for their French sponsors – since Sylvain Chavanel won stage 19 of the 2008 Tour.
It was assumed that their horses in the fight were the respected and experienced Guillaume Martin, Bryan Coquard and Ion Izaguirre, but how we’d overlooked Victor Lafay. On the first stage, the 27-year-old set the fastest time up the final climb of Côte de Pike, and that was just a taste of what would come 24 hours later.
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
The man from Lyon formed part of the front group that came back together on the run-in to San Sebastián after a rip-roaring ride up Jaizkibel, an ascent that didn't produce any substantial GC splits despite the best efforts of Tadej Pogačar, and as the reduced group raced under the flamme rouge, readying itself for a bunch sprint, Lafay clipped off the front and went into time trial mode, a lifetime of sacrifices all for this moment, a chance to end an entire team’s collective and everlasting nightmare.
Those types of moves aren’t meant to pay off. They’re thankless missions, a survival rate of just a few percent. Sometimes it does go the chancer’s way, but never Cofidis’ way. A rider for the red-and-white team jumping clear, even one with evident zest and tactical astuteness like Lafay, barely causes the ticker on a scared barometer to rise above its baseline. They’ve not been plucky losers down the years; they’ve just been losers.
But on stage two of the 2023 Tour, Lafay spectacularly hung on by mere metres, the mockery became history, the derision became surprise, and the frustration for one of France’s longest-running teams converted into elation.
Any champagne Cofidis had left over from 2008 will have aged so much that it would have lost its effervescence, the bubbles spouting out rather pathetically as opposed to effusively spraying anyone in line of sight. So long gone was it that online celebratory GIFs weren’t even dreamed of, the job title of social media content creator yet to even exist.
Through all the changes, Cofidis’ continued shortcomings were the one constant. Hated by the architects, but wickedly loved by the observers. Ending a drought is never worth the wait; the emotion is only one of relief, but the joy that comes with bringing closure to an unwanted hoodoo can rarely be rivalled.
Finally, Cofidis are stage winners in the Tour de France once again.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix