Tour wildcards: Saur-Sojasun gives Geox the boot

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Tour de France organisers ASO have announced that Cofidis, Europcar, FDJ and Saur-Sojasun will get the four wildcard places for July.

This leaves Geox-TMC out, the Italo-Spanish team had sought to improve itself following a lacklustre appearance last year as Footon-Servetto by hiring Denis Menchov (third overall) and 2008 winner Carlos Sastre but surprisingly this wasn’t enough to impress ASO. Rumours had been circulating that Geox had already been told they were out. From my perspective, as good as Menchov is, he does not create le spectacle so beloved of French TV and ASO and Sastre hasn’t delived a result for some time now. Still, it is a big decision, especially given that the potential absence of Contador means Menchov had to be considered a favourite to win in July, perhaps not on the same rating as Andy Schleck but on a second tier of candidates with Samuel Sanchez, Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans.

Look closely and Coppel is there

Geox’s loss is Saur-Sojasun’s gain. The French squad is a reasonable outfit and has Jérôme Coppel, who finished fifth in the Dauphiné last June, one place behind Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Clearly not in the league of Menchov but a prospect who at least deserves his chance. The guy now has an enormous amount of expectation on his shoulders. But he could finish as the first Frenchman and if he keeps up his progress, the top-10 is feasible providing everything goes right. If things don’t go to plan then, everthing else being equal, Saur-Sojasun will blow it’s chance. In short, they deserve a chance but are unlikely to get many more unless they deliver.

Photo: Velo101.fr

Marc Lafleur January 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Cyclingnews has Saur in Paris-Nice and not in the Tour. Bretagne-Schuller is listed as the fourth wildcard for the Tour. Who has it right?

TheInnerRing January 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Definately Saur for the Tour:
http://www.letour.fr/2011/TDF/COURSE/fr/actus.html#zone164958

There seems to be some confusion over Paris-Nice, Bretagne-Schuller are in. But some are saying Europcar aren't riding, some say Saur-Sojasun aren't.

beev January 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

With no team kit announced yet either, and Gianetti not exactly flavour of the month with any related parties, you have to wonder on the future of Geox. Should they now "fold" would/could Menchov still ride the Tour? I would have thought that he would put his place at a premium to his contract (€1.4m) whereas clearly Sastre has his retirement ticket (€2m – this kind of epitomises Geox management errors) and won't give a hoot – assuming he's still paid of course!

hamncheeze January 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Maybe with the evolution of the Pro Tour to the ProTeam, the best solution is for the GTs is to play to the home Conti Pro teams. 18 PT get auto invites, and then the remaining 4 spots go to Conti Pro teams of the host nation. France takes French, Italy takes Italian, Spain takes Spanish. Make it a rule, and then the rules are clearly cut and dried.

I know this solution would be scoffed at by teams like Team Type 1 and United Healthcare as they are trying to get a GT start in 2011 and they are not from one of the 3 countries hosting GTs. There would be a problem in that the incentive to be a Conti Pro team from a non-GT nation might be reduced, but the Belgian and Dutch Conti Pro teams are really focused on the classics anyway. And most other Conti Pro teams are developing and are better off to aim for smaller races anyway. The other failure might be if there are not enough Conti Pro teams from the host country to fill the four spots. I just think this solution simplifies things greatly and might even reduce the focus on the Tour de France slightly, that is if the wildcard selection is within France only there will not be quite as much furor leading up to it. No one seems to get their undies in knot when the Giro or Vuelta wildcards are announced.

gadi January 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm

it's rather unbelievable that you consider the Saur comparable in any remote mean to the Geox ( it is sad as well, Mr. Konformist)

beev January 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm

hamncheeze – ok, but would drive the gulf between bottom of the PT and top of the CP teams even wider! The premium for PT entry, something that is clearly being sought by the UCI, would keep on increasing. don't be fooled by the euphemism "sporting criteria" when they use it – it's all about the money!

TheInnerRing January 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm

beev: I didn't know those salary amounts. What an investment for little return. You'd think that before dropping millions into the sport you'd make a discreet phone call to Paris, maybe take Prudhomme out for lunch. Hiring Gianetti seems to be an expensive mistake.

hamncheeze: the Tour suffers from being both the big race in France and also the global cycling race. The reason we have more wildcards going to French teams is because only one is in the Pro Tour. It's possible Astana and Saxo vanish, should this happen then FDJ and Cofidis are contenders to step up, leaving wildcards for other, non-French squads.

gadi: it depends. Being Italian, I am wondering if Menchov would have been required to do the Giro at 100%. The team doesn't have a sprinter or other rider to shine in the Giro, so Menchov could be too tired come July and the team would have brought little.

beev: yes, as we've seen you can increasingly buy "sporting criteria" by hiring riders with UCI points.

Anonymous January 20, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Problem with the idea of limiting invites to only teams in those nations is there are numerous other cycling-centric countries which deserve to have their teams considered. Remember Barloworld? Maricio Soler and Robbie Hunter put on a good show.

I do not feel too bad with the Geox issue. Menchov is boring (recall one time he ever really attacked on a mountain stage) and Sastre attacks,but every time, is caught once the big guns start to throw down the hammer. In other words – the Tour is not worse off because of it.

hamncheeze January 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Actually just reading over the list of invited teams by RCS to contest Tirreno-Adriatico and Monte Paschi l'Eroica shows that there really is no rhyme or reason to invites. Both Astana and Sky getting snubbed for l'Eroica, when they have the entire podium from last year?? And passing on Katusha with Pozzato and Kolobnev? And then Tirreno only has 20 teams so that leaves room for only 2 wild card invites, leaving many a decent team on the sidelines.

Maybe I am missing something in my previous analysis. Perhaps the ProTeam structure has too much power. Some teams on the ProTeam list (Euskatel and Caisse d'Epargne/Movistar for example) are notorious for sending filler to races in northern Europe that they are required to attend. The solution might be that there are less ProTeam teams, thereby opening up the competition for the spots in races and allowing the organizers to select the best complement of teams they think is appropriate. 12 ProTeams? But as beev says, it all comes down to $$.

TheInnerRing January 20, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Anonymous: I'm with you there.

hamncheeze: yes, it is chaotic. 18 teams but yes, they don't always want to be there. We already saw how Cofidis didn't want the Giro. As for the Tour, I'm not sure what even Lampre, Astana or Saxo sans Contador can bring in July. But we need consistent rules.

bikecellar January 20, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Let's face it the pro tour idea has never worked very well. Within cycling many of the major sponsors of teams are not multinational/global companies and so have limited horizons. I believe that the race organisers should decide who they wish to invite, end of story. The world is too big for globalisation, do we see european club soccer teams playing club teams from other continents on a regular basis? NO

TheInnerRing January 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

bikecellar: I'd disagree, we need rules on entry, leaving it to the organiser means unclear participation, enough to scare away sponsors.

I'm with you that The Pro Tour needs revision, the sport isn't globalised. But surely clear rules on who is in and out are needed, not last minute fixes and grudges?

Touriste-Routier January 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Ah but what about scaring away the race sponsors? Of all the parties, the race organizers carry the most risk. They are producing the product to sell to their audience (sponsors on one hand, fans on the other). I agree with letting them pick the teams that appease their core audience.

The Pro Tour is a "league" without a confederation. What do the race organizers get out of it? This was the root of the ASO/RCS/Uni battle with the UCI.

For the Pro Tour to work, I believe there needs to be tangible benefits for the race organizers. I have yet to see it, unless you organize a fringe race such as the Tour of Poland or TDU.

There are two paths that can be taken. 1) Reduce team size from 9 to 7 or 8 in the races to allow a few more teams to compete. This won't be popular in GTs, or 2) As other have stated, reduce the number of Pro Tour Teams, and increase the number of wild cards & discretionary invites.

As is often the case, the people in the middle get squeezed. Having more PC teams could foster a better 2nd tier racing scene, which in turn could also help add incentive to some of the C teams to upgrade to PC.

TheInnerRing January 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm

The benefits to the race organisers is TV money. But this is dominated by the Tour de France. To a large extent money from July is used to subsidise marginally economic races like Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné and even Paris-Roubaix. It says something that these big name races don't make big amounts of money.

One thing to note is Canadian Serge Arsenault, organiser of the two races in Quebec last summer. He wants to cut teams in the on the TV rights. This is probably worth some thought on my part and a whole new topic.

Touriste-Routier January 21, 2011 at 3:57 am

Are the TV rights controlled by the UCI, and not by the race organizers? While I know the UCI controls rights for World Championships and many track & cross races, I was under the strong impression that the race organizers controlled & negotiated their own TV deals. And if this later is the case, then I can't see how an ASO race benefits a non ASO race.

If the UCI held the TV rights, and these were shared among the Pro Tour race organizers (and possibly teams) than you would have a confederation of all parties (possibly even a league), and many of the problems would go away if there was clarity of agreement.

TheInnerRing January 21, 2011 at 8:51 am

T-R: yes, the UCI has the Worlds as it's the organiser. Others control the rights to their races but some events see the organisers pay TV companies to produce images, the presence of TV images being enough to attract sponsors.

As for centralising these rights, note that private businesses like ASO won't give up their golden goose. But if you could somehow do this, can you see the UCI managing this appropriately? It doesn't have a great record when it comes to monopolising things.

Anonymous January 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

The UCI are doing their best to totally stuff this sport up, a half baked & unclear selection process leads to this situation with good teams & riders left out in the cold. The 18 top Pro Tour teams rule is going to strangle the level of teams below it and stop the underdog teams from coming to the Tours and making the races exciting. If this criteria was used last year, teams like Cervelo & BMC wouldn't have got a start. Or the chance of BMC jumping up to Pro Tour level wouldn't have happened this year. If they keep this up along with the crazy selection criteria and their haphazard solution to the never ending doping issue, then cycling is really in trouble. Festina happened in 1998 and the sport is still not working all these years later. It would almost be worth letting the Grand Tours run the sport as they seem to have a better idea of what they are doing & the UCI can have the Olympics.
Being the UCI though, once again money talks loudest and you have to wonder if the teams outside Pro Tour are better to become U23 feeder teams as the chance of getting in to a GT is going to become too hard.
Its a disgrace to leave Geox out while some of these other lesser French teams get a berth, the same goes for the Giro & Tirreno and Paris Nice.
Reading Sastre's response on other sites shows again what a dignified person he is. In the years ahead people will look back at this time and see him for what he was, a true champion without question marks about his Tour win.
I stopped following this sport for the past 10 years & have just started to come back to it again, but its not looking like its improved much in 10 years and apart from some bright spots like Slipstream, Highroad & Cervelo it looks like the usual suspects are still running the show

Touriste-Routier January 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm

No I can't see the UCI adequately managing TV rights, and forming a confederation or league with the teams, and the private for-profit race organizers. I look at them as government, and that most services are best provided by the private sector.

That was the subtle point of my posts, along with the fact that The UCI forcing teams hurts the races, since so many of the lesser UCI races have to fund their tv coverage, which as you point out helps get sponsors (but only if the audience is the right one).

Anonymous January 21, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Had a funny thought this morning while out training, about the Tour this year & the fact that there might be no previous winner riding amongst the peloton in 2011. Following the exclusion of Geox & Sastre, Pereiro retiring last year, Lance this year. A poor outcome for Alberto Contador ( even worse outcome for the sport), or if its even resolved by July the way things have been dragging on with the Spanish Federation & the UCI. There is a chance that the race will start without a previous winner. I cant even remember the last time that there wasn't a previous winner in the race. Certainly not since the 80's anyway!

Perhaps Jan Ullrich should make his come back now and then there could be a previous winner amongst the ranks, otherwise we are left with Riis in the Saxo Bank car as the only previous winner!

Sandgroper January 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Why not let those with a ProTeam license an "opt out" clause. Euskatel don't want to race the Giro? Fine, and extra slot opens up. Would work for other races too and would give a chance for teams that don't want to race, an exit and give a chance to teams who want to be there, Win win.

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