Tour de France Wildcards

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

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.

Sans Quintana
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.

Conclusion
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)

Larry T. January 28, 2014 at 8:19 pm

A reasonable set of wildcards by ASO for LeTour. Same for the choices of RCS for Il Giro. Each country is trying to build up some homegrown teams in an era of financial difficulty. IAM (I can not stop thinking of the US pet food operation when I see them..and “best dressed”…really?) sealed their dance card with Chavenel, no surprise there. I’m rather happy to see Quintana opt for the Giro over the Tour as I’m one who likes the progression idea – win one of the other GT’s before throwing your hat in the ring for Le Beeg Shew. Now I wait for the REAL racing season to start, with Paris-Nice/Tirreno-Adriatico.

Brian January 28, 2014 at 8:24 pm

No one seems able to maintain solid form for two straight years lately. Wiggins/Fabian/Gilbert/Boonen (who am I leaving out?) all suffered very bad years (bad luck, lack of motivation, whatever) after a run of dominance the year before. Be interesting to see what happens with Froome. Bet if he looks off form Movistar will shift him back to the Tour.

The Inner Ring January 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm

All true but different stories to each case although all managed to get giant contracts based – rightly – on their success. I think Froome seems ready to repeat, he has a contract but his win last year was consistent and there’s no change on his personal life. For now he’s the clear pick for the Tour but let’s hope others upset this certainty.

Jeff January 29, 2014 at 3:57 am

It’s the “Andreas Kloden” strategy. Do “whatever” it takes on a contract renewal year then coast until contract renewal time again.

Yves January 28, 2014 at 8:30 pm

C’est un très mauvais signal en direction de l’ Afrique . Il faut des explications au rejets dont a été victime l’équipe MTN-Qhubeka .

channel_zero January 28, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Don’t worry, the UCI has a long-running development project for African nations that is already paying off with Froome. There will be more competitive cycling stories out of Africa.

I don’t see the point of legitimate GC contenders coming to the TdF. Sky ends their 6+ month reign of terror at stage races by beating everyone at the TdF. Quintana is doing the right thing.

macnirgu January 28, 2014 at 8:47 pm

seems the vuelta wildcards going to Cofidis, Caja Rural and MTN Qhubeka, last spot for IAM/NetApp/Colombia

Kjetil January 28, 2014 at 9:45 pm

Stake Laengen’s first name is Vegard.
Curiously “stake” translates to “pole”. In 2012 he was the only rider on the team on a C59 because Colnago didn’t make the M10 in size 64.

James January 28, 2014 at 10:28 pm

@inrng, do you see any chance of Drapac getting a run in 2015, or 16?
What would they need to be doing?

The Inner Ring January 28, 2014 at 10:51 pm

There’s already one Australian team in Greenedge so they’d need to offer something more, for example with a “must have” rider in the team who is worth inviting because he makes the race exciting.

MK January 28, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Also the gap in ability between the riders on Drapac (and mst Pro Conti teams) and World Tour riders is huge. Drapac with its current roster wouldn’t get more then 3 or 4 finishers in a 3 week race and thats if they did nothing by sitting in. Without a team doing other one week World Tour tours, with long stage distances and the speed of the World Tour it is very hard to step up. Use the Tour Down Under as an example. Yes they were in the ‘break of the day’ but when the pace was on, their best riders were a long way behind.

Drapac would be 2017 at best, with an increased budget, bigger roaster, better riders and a buckload of good fortune. Id say more likely is a Giro or Vuelta start in 2016 and if successful again in 2017.

To be clear i’m not critisising Drapac at all. Its just the average follower just doens;t understand the gap between World Tour and the rest. It is a long and expensive process to get an entire team up to that level.

Jon L January 29, 2014 at 10:24 am

MK makes a good point.

To highlight the difference, look at Nathan Haas and Steele Von Hoff (one of the best names in the peloton) both dominated the 2011 National Road Series in Australia, but both have taken time to adjust to the World Tour.

Sam January 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Totally agree with MK and Jon L.

The gap to WT is much much bigger than (it seems) so many people realise. Talking rider-specific for a moment, the Warren Barguils (for example) who burst onto the scene in their first year as a pro, are massively the exception not the rule. Vast majority of riders take at least the first year riding in WT races just to adjust to much faster pace of the WT and the much greater challenge of positioning and just moving around the bunch.

Ste_S January 28, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Valverde still calling the shots at Movistar and doesn’t want Quintana upstaging him at the tour?

Martijn January 29, 2014 at 9:37 am

Too much flat time trial KM’s in the Tour for Quintana to be able to beat Froome. Not that Valverde’s changes are any better, but that matters less if Quitana’s won the Giro earlier.

BC January 29, 2014 at 1:12 am

Agree. A shame really, but says everything about the Spanish mentality to past history. Also reminds us that having two potential leaders (SKY) offers no guarantee that large financial investment will produce the desired result.

noel January 29, 2014 at 4:12 pm

sorry BC, are you saying SKY got it wrong?… not sure they’d see it that way.

ave January 29, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Quintana held back from the Tour to ensure Valverde as the main man? That’s one way to look at it. Another view is that Quintana has a much greater chance to win the Giro.

I’m pretty happy with this situation.

Also, don’t forget that Horner will win the Tour.

Bart January 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Everyone has been deriding Andy Schleck for a long time for his single-minded occupation with TdF, despite not winning any GT and being the Poulidor to Contador’s Anquetil. Now that Movistar management makes a wise decision to groom Quintana for future greatness and make him ride arguably a race that is much more suited to his strengths, people are complaining that he will never win TdF, because he lacks champion’s mentality or other such nonsense. O tempora o mores!

Joe K. January 29, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Given the racist taunts still present in Euro League football, could the decision to leave out MTN-Qhubeka from TdF and other ASO races be based on considerations for black African riders’ safety? Even though Europcar has two black riders and one Asian rider, they are literally a small minority, but with an entire team on the road, they might be more easily targeted. Especially with many Europeans blaming dark skinned minorities for high unemployment locally. After all, next to the National Hockey League in America and pro golf, cycling is the most white pro sport our there.

The Inner Ring January 29, 2014 at 3:49 pm

In a word: no. There are some “ultras” in soccer but most of the Tour’s crowds are families having a picnic.

tourdeutah January 29, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Not surprised by the invites. More surprised that Caja Rural got left out. Is ASO positioning itself to exclude them from the Vuelta?

The Inner Ring January 29, 2014 at 5:44 pm

I’d see it the other way around, if Caja Rural rode the Tour they’d be too tired for the Vuelta. The squad is not big and they’ll want their best riders for the certain invitation in August.

Rnelson January 29, 2014 at 9:57 pm

In the “Automatic Invites” section … Who is “Team Giant – Shimano (Ned)”. Is that supposed to be Belkin, who ride Bianchis?

The Inner Ring January 29, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Giant-Shimano… is Giant-Shimano: http://www.teamgiantshimano.com/

tourdeutah January 30, 2014 at 12:17 am

Formerly argos – shimano.

Labrador of Perception January 31, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Net-App Endura seems a canny choice. they may not be well known on the European circuit but they will be a draw for the Grand Depart with local hero Scott Thwaites. Expect lots of coverage about that on BBC Look North and the ITV one that nobody watches. .

I suspect this will set the scene for “plucky British underdogs” and help keep the Brits watching after the race returns to the France. Add to the that the WWI factor – it’s a shoe in to have a British breakaway rider noodling along a battlefield for the UK TV audience numbers……Short of feeding the team on powdered egg and bully beef it’s cracking general interest, 7pm BBC1 stuff.

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