The UCI is set to bring in new rules restricting the size of a team in a race to eight riders. Grand Tours could keep an exemption for nine riders but it means teams of no more than nine in a race. Everything is different this weekend with the strangest races on the pro calendar, the national championships and in France FDJ will field a team of 26 riders.
In the French championships you will see Europcar, Ag2r La Mondiale, FDJ and Cofidis swarming all over the race with 84 riders between them. The likes of IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel and Giant-Shimano’s Warren Barguil have their work cut out. It’s a similar story in Italy, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands where one or two teams field a large proportion of the field.
The big teams dominate the race but in a curious way. Any breakaway that goes clear without a rider from a top team is not going to get far because maybe 20 riders are on hand to lead the chase. So there’s a constant flurry of attacks but the composition has to be just right before a move goes clear. It’s tactical and at times a bit negative. It’s an elective selection with the bunch allowing the move to go. It’s the opposite of a big classic or a mountain stage where the race reaches boiling point and 95% of the field gets cooked.
Another scenario sees domestic pros desperate to beat their World Tour salaried compatriots. Spain has Movistar, Britain has Team Sky and in each case they’re the teams to beat even if it’s an individual race.
Even within the teams things are competitive. It’s not like a normal race where the team has to win. Yes the team has to win but this is one race where personal ambitions can rise to the top too. A win in this race can guarantee plenty, from a pay rise to juicy fees in post-Tour criteriums to plenty of public recognition and fame. So you can find team mates chasing each other. OPQS’s Niki Terpstra has won the Dutch championships several times thanks to Rabobank-Blanco-Belkin riders not riding to a team plan.
This Sunday’s race in France is a fascinating edition with FDJ’s 26 riders but with Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni in competition. One is set to ride the Tour de France, the other probably leaving for Cofidis and taking one or two riders with him so we should see a Team Bouhanni within the FDJ team. All this marking and tactics will surely dilute FDJ’s chance of winning.
FDJ manager Marc Madiot adores the French national champion jersey and has made a point of not putting any sponsors logos on it but the visibility of the national champions varies. Some countries like to the give the national element prominence for example the French, Italian and Belgian jersey is really the flag with sleeves on. But for others it can he harder to tell. Some teams get the blame for this and it does seem that some squads push the rules. But a national champion’s jersey needs to be approved by the national federation in question and comply with other UCI rules and crucially the design is submitted to the UCI at least three weeks prior to the race. So it’s not for the teams to design a jersey after the race, there are meant to be guidelines in place already.
These are unconventional races where tactics are very important, it often takes a team effort to win the race… and sometimes a team effort to lose it too. But everyone wants to win, the honour of wearing the national jersey is still an important tradition in the sport and a valuable one too.