Tour de France wildcards?

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Giro d’Italia announced the four teams invited to take part in the race last week. The choice of Team NetApp caused some controversy but that’s all part of the fun and I was pleased to see race direttore Michele Acquarone setting out the conditions before and explaining the timing and then commenting on the picks afterwards. And today we’ve learned of the six teams invited to the Tour of Flanders in April.

By contrast the wildcard picks for the Tour de France are a mystery. I’m told we’ll hear some time in February and the criteria for an invitation to the world’s biggest bike race are a mystery. Is a French exam involved?

Jokes aside, we can guess organisers ASO want some French riders in the race and also to invite some exciting teams for the race. With this in mind, here’s a look at the candidates for one of the four golden tickets this July.

First, a reminder that the top-18 teams get automatic entry. With FDJ back in the World Tour alongside Ag2r La Mondiale, two French teams are already selected. This will satisfy race organisers Christian Prudhomme and Jean-François Pescheux who need a large contingent of domestic riders to satisfy French TV audiences and draw crowds to the roadside.

The contenders
ASO can pick from 22 teams amongst the UCI’s Pro Continental teams:
Accent Jobs – Willems Verandas, Landbouwkrediet, Topsport Vlaanderen – Mercator, Spidertech Powered By C10, Champion System Pro Cycling Team, Colombia – Coldeportes, Andalucia – Caja Rural, Bretagne – Schuller, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, Saur – Sojasun, Team Europcar, Farnese Vini, Team Netapp, Colnago – CSF Inox, Utensilnord Named, Acqua e Sapone, Androni Giocattoli, Project 1t4i, Rusvelo, Team Type 1 – Sanofi and Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling Team.

Some of these squads have very little chance. Here’s my take on the main candidates:

Europcar
I could just put a picture of Thomas Voeckler in yellow and leave it at that. But don’t forget Pierre Rolland nor Christophe Kern. The latter was putting out big numbers prior to a crash early in the Tour de France. Even if repeating last summer’s surprise is almost possible, the Tour de France without Voeckler is almost unimaginable.

Cofidis
I think these are the second strongest contenders but it’s not so simple. They’ve fallen asleep in July in recent years and have not won a stage since 2008. Vuelta quadruple king of the mountains David Moncoutié is unsure of riding. The biggest talent is Rein Taaramäe but he’s not French. Samuel Dumoulin and Remy Di Gregorio are capable of stage wins.

Saur-Sojasun
A surprise pick last year for some, the reason was Jérôme Coppel, a rider just about capable of cracking the top-10 this year because he can climb and time trial. But his diesel style might not be wild enough for a wildcard, he was 14th last July but not very visible. The squad has other good riders for breakaways, for example signing Brice Feillu But if they’re contenders, they might have to wait for 2013.

Project 14Ti
Marcel Kittel’s big wins from last year are the equivalent of those steel rams used by police to smash open doors. With his talent the Dutch team can be confident of gatecrashing many a race this year. John Degenkolb is useful for the uphill finishes and don’t forget Frenchman Alex Geniez who has impressed ASO before. Despite not being French, I think they’re the most likely team after Europcar to get a ride. They didn’t get picked for the Giro but this makes July only more likely, they can save their best for July. And they seem to be counting on it, their promo video at the team launch features Marcel Kittel strolling along the Champs Elysées.

Team Type 1 – Sanofi
They’ve yet to have the results to justify a place but if NetApp can ride the Giro, this team can ride the Tour de France. In addition to the riders, there’s been a big lobbying effort by team management and the sponsor alike. Sanofi is a French pharmaceutical giant that has sponsorship agreements with ASO too. Note they’ve also recruited three Frenchmen in Antomarchi, Cusin, El Fares and even former French national selector Fred Moncassin has joined as a sports director.

The others
Bretagne-Schuller were touted as a possibility for a 2011 wildcard but this year’s race won’t visit Brittany and they didn’t impress enough when they rode Paris-Nice. The Belgian squads are largely built for the classics. The likes of Spidertech, Unitedhealthcare, Colombia-Coldeportes, Rusvelo and Champion System are outsiders, the organiser would welcome them because of the ability to reach new audiences. But access to the US and Russia is via Radioshack and Katusha and these teams don’t have big wins or must-have riders; Colombia’s best riders are with other teams. Farnese Vini and Acqua e Sapone could liven up the race but the former will be tired from the Giro and the latter probably don’t excite the race organisers enough.

Emotion... and winning TV audiences

Summary
Europcar look certain. As for the others, Project 1t4i are the most likely. Then I think it’s a scrap between Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun and Team Type 1 for the last two places but if each of this trio can liven up the race, none seemingly brings a major challenger for the overall or an obvious stage winner so it is hard to pick.

fausto January 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm

cofidis for the 3rd spot. they’ve always got a place for the tour. saur and team type 1 to battle for the 4th spot

Larry T. January 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Europcar and Cofidis have to be included or there will be howls from the French fans. My bet is Team Type 1 with their French connection along with Project 14Ti for the reasons you mentioned. I still believe things would be much better with only a dozen World Tour teams automatically getting in, leaving more room for wildcards to bolster the up-and-comers and counter some of the financial requirements to run a team, which seem to be getting way out of line these days. UCI needs to start thinking about what’s going on in F1, MotoGP, etc. where costs have spiraled into the stratosphere BEFORE these issues start to destroy pro cycling. If Vaughters and those folks REALLY want a North American style program they should allow for “draft picks” of the best young talent rather than simply let them go to the highest bidder. THAT would shake things up a bit!

ave January 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Good analysis!
I want to see Kittel in the Tour, that’s a must. Europcar is a must too.
For the other 2 places I’d prefer TT1 and Cofidis, but I’ll be happy with other teams as well.

boardhanger January 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm

LeTour starts in July not April or May like Ronde Vlaanderen or Giro’d Italia. So they do get a buffer zone. Still its BIKEpolitic ‘as in’ LeTour does not make decisions based on inferior race conditions. Snub.

haps January 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

assuming eurocar as a certain pick
Project 14Ti & confidis as second & third choices
then i dont really know why – but I hope and bellieve that Colombia-Coldeportes will grab the last place…

The Inner Ring January 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm

It seems ASO have made their picks and we should get the news in early February.

andym January 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I’d like to see Taaramae in this years parcours. He’s good in the time trial and was very animated in last years Vuelta. With a little luck I think he could even crack the top 5 (okay, that may be pushing it).

Benjamin Hall January 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I would love to see Kittel ride the tour. Nothing better than watching a sprinter hurting in the mountains one day, then exploding out of a pack doing 40mph + the next.

Gabriel January 16, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Europcar, Cofidis, Project 14Ti and Champion System are my bet. Something makes me believe in this last team. Or maybe for the next year…

Gabriel January 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm

* Project 1t4i

bikecellar January 16, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Larry +1

Mullummer January 16, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Team Type 1 started in only 1 of 27 world tour events last year. I don’t see them starting the tour this year.

CGradeCyclist January 17, 2012 at 7:25 am

Great analysis as always INRNG.

My tips are Europcar, 14TI, Cofidis, and Saur-Sojasun. Predictable choices, but I think the first 3 have done enough, or have the right personnel, to make them desirable entrants.

Saur-Sojasun was, for me, a disappointment last year. I expected to see them in many more breakaways, and Coppel was more anonymous than I expected… But I think he’s one of the next great French hopes, and ASO will support that by giving the team one of the golden tickets…

John Jocham January 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Declared bias here but I hope TT1 makes it!

tmana January 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, Team Europcar are musts because it’s the Tour de France. Saur got in last year — again, also a French team (as is Bretagne-Schuller). That’s my first cut for the four wildcards.

That said, I can see a lot of UCI pressure for inviting Champion System Pro Cycling Team and/or Colombia – Coldeportes instead of Saur and/or Bretagne-Schuller — that whole globalization-of-cycling thing. Another option would be to expand again to 24 teams, though ASO has said in the past that expanding beyond 20-22 teams becomes dangerous for the riders as well as a logistical nightmare.

If — and only if — the field is expanded beyond 22 teams, Spidertech Powered By C10 has an outside chance, because of the French-Canadian connection (although there aren’t that many Quebecois on the team). Team Type 1 – Sanofi has a number of French riders, but because the team is registered as a US team, their chances are slim for 2012. While TT1 is my team of choice, the whole nationalism thing means I can’t see them getting into any of the three-week European grand tours without making it into the Pro Tour first.

The Cycling Doctor January 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

It’s really easy to predict which teams will obtain a wildcard from ASO, take a look at Paris-Nice wildcards and u u’ll got the answer…

website design in india February 9, 2012 at 7:32 am

The squad has other good riders for breakaways, for example signing Brice Feillu But if they’re contenders, they might have to wait for 2013.

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