The Spoke August 12, 2012

10 Things you might not know about....'Renault-Elf-Gitane'

Following the bikebritain article on Spanish pro bike team 'Kas' earlier this year, comes the second instalment of '10 Things you might not know about'. This time the focus is on French team Renault-Elf-Gitane. Enjoying tremendous success for about a decade, the team was thereafter consigned to the history books. Here's how that happened.

1. Renault-Elf-Gitane was a French professional cycling team that existed from 1978 to 1985 and which cycled on and promoted Gitane racing bikes.

2. The team was formed off the back of the car manufacturer Renault's purchase of the French bicycle maker Gitane. As a consequence Renault became the prime sponsor of Gitane-Campagnola, a team managed by the former French cycling champion Cyrille Guimard.

3. The team contained a talented young prospect called Bernard Hinault, a rider destined to win 8 Grand Tours.

4. For 5 years Hinault dominated the professional cycling scene winning races in each of the Grand Tours, as well as several smaller stage and one day races including Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Paris–Roubaix, Giro di Lombardia, the Amstel Gold Race and the 1981 World Cycling Championships.

5. In 1981 the team changed names from Renault-Gitane to Renault-Elf, reflecting the auto group's purchase of the oil company. At this time Guimard also signed several Americam riders including another future Tour de France winner Greg Lemond. This marked a significant moment for the sport with Guimard and Lemond. Lemond did not let his new Team Director down; he placed third overall in the 1981 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré with Hinault the outright winner.

6. 1983 was a year of transition for Renalt-Elf. Hinault left the team after team mate and up and coming rider Laurent Fignon became the designated leader having won the 1983 tour de France. It also happened to be a successful year with Lemond winning the WorldnChampionship title. Fignon went from strength to strength, being crowned Fench National Champion in 1984 and taking overall victory in the 1984 Tour De France. 

7. The following season witnessed the beginning of the end for Renault-Elf. Laurent Fignon suffered from a persistent knee injury which hampered his performance. Greg Lemond had left the team after the 1984 Tour having been made a record $1 million offer by the the founder of a new team, La Vie Claire, led by Bernard Tapie, where Hinault was also riding. 

8. Despite this there was success with super-domestique Marc Madiot winning the cobbled classic Paris-Roubaix. 

9. Renault retired from sponsorship at the end of the 1985 season, a combination of stagnating car sales causing the company to reduce its interest inch the sport. As a result, French supermarket Système U became the prime sponsor of Guimard's team. The team continued to ride on Gitane bikes, but the team failed to live up to its past glories. In 1986, they did win the prologue of the Tour with (prologue specialist) Thierry Marie picking up the honours. Fignon on the other hand later dropped out if the tour. On a positive note, Fignon was victorious during the Flèche-Wallone but this was the exception and not the rule. In short, the team never lived up to its potential. 

10. 1988 saw the end of System U's sponsorship although Fignon did manage to win the Milan-San Remo classic that year. It was also the last year that Gitane provided bikes to the team because the following season the team became Super U and rode on Raleigh bikes reaping little reward. 

That's a brief potted history of the Renault-Gitane-Elf team. In its relatively brief lifespan it had amassed an impressive list of victories including 10 general classification wins at the Grand Tours plus 2 World Championships. Sadly Gitane bikes are no longer made, having firstly been sold off by the Renault group and ultimately bought by the company Cycleurope, only for them to cease bike production in 2005. With the upsurge of popularity in cycling, it remains to be seen if the once proud Gitane brand will find an owner prepared to get its bikes back on the road. 

Words - bikebritain Ltd

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