The four invitations for the Tour de France have gone to Cofidis, IAM Cycling, NetApp-Endura and Bretagne-Séché.
Antoine Blondin once wrote the Tour de France was “primarily a story of geography” but these four invitations tell a story of gentle nationalism with home team Bretagne-Séché getting the nod ahead of MTN-Qhubeka.
Cofidis are no surprise. They’re French which helps but remain a decent team, at least when viewed against the other Pro Continental candidates. Rein Taaramäe can liven up a race and new recruit Julien Simon is a punchy finisseur but there’s no contest if Peter Sagan is present. You might need reminding but Nicolas Edet was the Vuelta’s King of the Mountains and the biggest draw is Daniel Navarro, a stealthy ninth in the Tour de France last summer.
IAM Cycling was the obvious pick. The best-dressed team have strengthened with Sylvain Chavanel and Matthias Frank and have a solid roster. They are Swiss but with a French touch whether the French managers or their base in the French-speaking part of Switzerland but there’s more than appealing to Christian Prudhomme’s patriotism, see Heinrich Haussler, Gustav Larsson or Thomas Löfkvist. Plus Johann Tschopp won the mountains jersey in Paris-Nice last year help to seduce ASO. Hard to imagine ASO leaving them out.
NetApp-Endura are good pick thanks to Leopold König. The Czech climber won big in the Vuelta and Tour of California last year and could animate the race. But the rest of the squad aren’t mouthwatering. Bartosz Huzarski is a good stage race specialist who you can expect to go in breakways in the mountains and Tiago Machado had some good results with Radioshack like a podium in the Criterium International and the Tour de Romandie but has gone off the boil. The squad has a Scottish sponsor and some British starters seem appropriate given the Yorkshire grand départ but that’s up to the thoughtful team manager Ralph Denk.
The big surprise is Bretagne-Séché. All the teams have had their share of glory with big wins, grand tour jerseys and more. But there’s a cliffedge drop now as Bretagne-Séché won just four races in 2013 and all at the *.2 UCI level, a chasm from the Tour de France. Even getting riders into the day’s breakaway won’t be easy and you sense the media are ready to tie ribbons on them and chase them around France like scapegoats. But nobody expects much to start with. The squad has recruited the Feillu brothers, although sprinter Romain has been suffering from an inflamed intestine. Brice should be good for a breakaway in the mountains. Eduardo Sepulveda, Florian Vachon,
Merhawi Kudus and Stake Laengen have promise but they could be too young. Whoever starts this is a jump into the deep end but that’s part of the adventure.
The losers are MTN-Qhubeka. The South African team didn’t get picked for the Giro and now they’ve got the busy tone from ASO with and not even a trial in Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné. They have an exciting story but perhaps ASO are waiting for them to shine more in Europe. A Vuelta wildcard surely awaits where they’ll get the chance to imitate NetApp-Endura. If they thrive, 2015 awaits.
- Paris-Nice wildcards: Bretagne-Séché, Cofidis and IAM Cycling
- Criterium du Dauphiné wildcards: Cofidis, IAM Cycling and NetApp-Endura
Note just three invitations. ASO says it’s safer to have fewer teams on the smaller roads. It’s cheaper too.
If we got the invitations arguably the bigger story today is who won’t be there with Movistar confirming that Nairo Quintana will ride the Giro. It’s a loss for the Tour but gives the Giro a needy boost and may prompt panic attacks for Joaquim Rodriguez and Cadel Evans. Picking which race to ride has seen riders running game theory scenarios of what the outcomes will be. Rodriguez wants to finally land that grand tour win and knows he can’t beat Froome so he’s doing the Giro too. Quintana was hesitating and rightly so because this year’s Tour only has one time trial meaning it is within his reach.
In times past these wildcards were often consolation prizes awarded to French teams to keep them afloat. But with Ag2r La Mondiale, Europcar and FDJ.fr in the World Tour there are already three French teams but this didn’t stop ASO inviting two more plus a francophone Swiss team and a half-German, half-British team to please the Yorkshire crowds and then play the reconciliation card as the race passes war memorials. But these three teams each have their place in sporting terms, it’s the fourth spot that’s harder to fill.
ASO can invite four from the 17 Pro Continental teams but in reality there were few choices for July as most teams don’t have the depth of talent needed for the sport’s highest rendez-vous. I wrote last year that IAM, Cofidis and NetApp-Endura were the first three choices. But the fourth choice was hard, Bretagne-Séché’s French status seems to have got them past MTN-Qhubeka. But for all the analysis, it’s the narcissism of small differences as the Tour looks set to be dominated by Team Sky, Astana, Movistar and OPQS.
Automatic invites>: AG2R La Mondiale (Fra), Astana Pro Team (Kaz), Belkin Pro Cycling Team (Ned), BMC Racing Team (USA), Cannondale (Ita), FDJ.fr (Fra), Garmin Sharp (USA), Lampre-Merida (Ita), Lotto Belisol (Bel), Movistar Team (Esp), Omega Pharma – Quick Step Cycling Team (Bel), Orica – GreenEDGE (Aus), Team Europcar (Fra), Team Giant – Shimano (Ned), Team Katusha (Rus), Team Sky (Gbr), Tinkoff Saxo (Rus), Trek Factory Racing (USA)
Wildcards: Bretagne – Séché Environnement (Fra), Cofidis, Solutions Crédits (Fra), IAM Cycling (Sui), Team NetApp – Endura (Ger)