French teams have had it easy for some time. Thanks to their mere nationality they have been guaranteed entry into the Tour de France. The magic ticket that is so precious to many teams was automatic as long as a French sponsor could rustle up a few half decent riders.
After all the Tour de France can’t take place without a quota of Frenchmen, it might be the biggest race in the world but most roadside fans are French and the TV images are produced by French TV: there has to be some Gallic activity.
By extension if French teams and riders want to ride 100% clean then this hasn’t been a problem either because simply making a breakaway, hoping for a stage win and dreaming of cracking the top-10 on GC has been enough to reward a sponsor with sufficient coverage in July alone to cover the outlay on a team.
So does it now matter if no French team features in the “first division” of cyling teams? Because the likes of Cofidis, Ag2r La Mondiale and FDJ simply don’t have enough ranking points to qualify for the top league.
The answer is that we don’t yet know. There’s talk that the UCI is trying to rewrite the rules but these have been announced without consultation and oddly the UCI wants to impose them for 2011. Yet teams closed their recruitment well before the rule changes were announced. It’s not the just the teams who are confused, the big race organisers aren’t on board.
Can they afford it?
Instead I’d ask can the French teams ever make the top league? I’m not sure. Sylvain Chavanel earns a salary that is beyond the reach of every French team. As I’ve written before, French teams don’t have the biggest budgets and the tax system makes hiring big name riders almost impossible.
The Tour de France and others will still have “wild card” places to offer and these aren’t just for July. ASO also runs Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Dauphiné and more. Plus other race organisers will be pleased to see these teams on the start line.
Is it worth it?
So it comes downs to a calculation. A French team like Cofidis or Ag2r needs to hire a couple of big name riders with enough points to boost their rankings into the “first division” status. On top of this big expense a team would have to pay for the UCI licence. Finally, because teams must commit to riding every race on the calendar even if they don’t really want to be there, a team needs to hire a few extra riders to pad the roster a bit, to ensure all Grand Tours are covered. All told I reckon we’re looking at well over a million Euros a year, perhaps two million given the tax reasons I mentioned above. Given they already have a good chance of a wild card, are these extra payments worth it?