Tour de France wildcards controversy?

Friday, 14 January 2011

French website cyclismactu got the news first: the Tour de France will announce the wildcard selections for the 2011 season in only a couple of weeks’ time. Gone is the chance for a small team to impress with a strong start to the season, especially under the noses of ASO in Paris-Nice and the Criterium Internationale.

A pensive Pescheux

18 World Tour teams are pre-selected but there are four invitations left for ASO to decide on. “We’re doing it to avoid people asking questions for too long, and also so the teams don’t dither too much. Getting such certainty so early on, this will allow them to plan their season differently, whether they’re invited or not” said race director Jean Francois Pescheux to velochronno.fr.

For me this looks curious. It’s tantamount to ASO saying “these decisions will annoy some, by telling them early it’ll give the more time to get over it”.

What’s going to happen?
Certainly it’s a difficult position to be in. Of the French squads only Ag2R – La Mondiale has guaranteed entry. So Pescheux has to pick between Cofidis, FDJ, Europcar, Saur-Sojasun and Bretagne-Schuller as he will certainly need a greater French presence with two if not three picks. You never know but I’d imagine Bretagne-Schuller gets overlooked.

  • Cofidis have lost a few riders and in past years have struggled in the Tour de France, not winning a stage since 2008.
  • FDJ look the most likely pick for me given they have a strong squad and have bolstered this with the likes of Fedrigo and Chainel.
  • Europcar have a card to play in that the Tour starts in their home region. But that’s not an argument for a 21 day race, it’s more a desperate plea. But with Thomas Voeckler they have their attraction.
  • Saur-Sojasun have the best French talent in Jerome Coppel but the rest of the squad looks light in places.

Then we need to ask about the non-French squads that are on the Pro Conti list.

  • The stand out team is Geox-TMC with Menchov and Sastre and they are almost unmissable. Yet despite his podium pedigree, Menchov isn’t the most exciting candidate to liven up a race and the rest of the squad isn’t too promising. Several riders could shine in 2011 but the Tour is not the place to test a young prospect.
  • Not so much wild card as wild dream would be the Colombian squad Colombia Es Pasion. They have not show much promise but the invitation of Colombians in the 1980s was a masterstroke.
  • There are several Italian teams to pick but I suspect their focus will be on the Giro. Other teams might have their moments in the season but it’s hard to see Pescheux give the nod to the likes of Team Net App, CCC-Polsat or Caja Rural.
  • Another curious pick would be a North American squad like Team Type 1, Spidertech or United Healthcare. But it would take a brave organiser to pick one of these squads ahead of Cofidis or Europcar.

The most likely option is picking Europcar, FDJ and Cofidis along with Geox. Certainly ASO is a conservative organisation with an eye on the bottom line. It’s no stranger to controversy but acts of charity to a small team or taking a gamble with a very wild card is not usually their method.

    The nuclear option
    Finally an idea from twitter. ASO could rip up the rulebook and declare Saxo Bank doesn’t have enough points to merit inclusion if you strip out Contador. Indeed you can run with this and say Astana have blown too many chances as well. But means feeding the UCI rulebook into the shredder. You’d need to do this very early in the season so the fuss can die down.

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      { 7 comments }

      TheInnerRing January 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

      I got a comment via twitter saying:
      "I recently read a Prud'homme interview in a japanese cycling website. He said that Bernaudeau could sleep "sur ses 2 oreilles" :)"
      Which is the French way of saying the team manager can sleep sound. Rather than edit the piece, it's a good follow up. Personally I'd like to see this team included but they probably know that the team needs to grow a little to be sure for 2012 and beyond.

      As an aside, you would do well to follow @Biarnes72 if you are on twitter.

      http://twitter.com/Biarnes72/status/25866338241093632

      Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm

      I can't see Geox being overlooked, the arrival of Menchov changes everything. But which French team to dump overboard?

      Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      My bets would be FDJ, surely the strongest of the named French teams, Europcar, Voeckler still is very popular with the fans, Geox-TMC, with two potential Tour contenders with so little TT, they surely can't be overlooked, especially if AC won't be able to participate, and Bretagne-Schuller. On contrary to your opinion I think they are going to get picked because the Bretagne plays an important role in this year's Tour and to penalise Cofidis. Also, I have the impression the ASO is not the biggst fan of Saur-Sojasun, and that's why I'm going with the odd one.

      SkullKrusher January 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Really too bad that the days of having a great beginning of the season would give you a bigger chance on making it in. Look at what happened last year with Vacansoleil. They had a great early season and they weren't invited. Cofidis made it tho. BS.

      About Colombia es Pasion: no way they'll make it, but, again, if they got a chance to prove themselves in the next few months they might have stood a chance and I'm sure would have been a lot of fun to watch in the mountains. Nairo Quintana, Darwin Atapuma and Jarlinson Pantano are all superb young riders. At least we know, if Geox makes it (and I'm pretty sure they will), we could see the most promising Colombian rider in a decade. Fabio Duarte (U23 world Champ in 2008) is an awesome all-arounder. Also the aging Mauricio Ardila, who came over from Rabobank. I guess we will know pretty soon.

      Touriste-Routier January 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      Ah cycling fans, looking at this event as a sporting event, and forgetting it is a marketing vehicle too (or to put it bluntly, first and foremost).

      It is up to ASO to attract as much media attention and public interest as possible to deliver to their sponsors. Picking teams that may not be the top level sporting wise, but bring an audience with them is a valid business approach.

      Giving lesser teams an opportunity on the main stage may capture the hearts and minds of the public more so than picking a mid level road team.

      Picking teams on reasons other than sporting also reduces some of the second guessing/who deserves it more debates.

      If the UCI can be subjective, why not ASO, who has considerable skin in the game?

      Anonymous January 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm

      Agree with Touriste-Routier, but: FDJ and COF buy a large amount of ad time on TV, esp during a TdF that they are involved in. This makes money for TV networks but it also ups value of TV rights for ASO.
      On a sporting level, I too think it is troublesome that ASO will pick early. What else might we have missed had they always picked early? Mauricio Soler on the Galibier in '07 comes to mind…

      TheInnerRing January 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

      Comments all noted guys, thanks.

      SkullKrusher, not sure if Vacansoleil impressed: the were told to impress ASO in Paris-Nice and the Criterium International but the best was a desperate attack by Sergei Lagutin in Corsica. I know they were good in the classics at times but not when they had to impress ASO.

      Touriste-Routier: ASO need to pick some French teams but I wonder who they will opt for. As for a random team, well that's why I raised the possibility of the Colombians but we'll see…

      NB: Geox have been told they're not coming according to one French commentator.

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