French website cyclismactu got the news first: the Tour de France will announce the wildcard selections for the 2011 season in only a couple of weeks’ time. Gone is the chance for a small team to impress with a strong start to the season, especially under the noses of ASO in Paris-Nice and the Criterium Internationale.
|A pensive Pescheux
18 World Tour teams are pre-selected but there are four invitations left for ASO to decide on. “We’re doing it to avoid people asking questions for too long, and also so the teams don’t dither too much. Getting such certainty so early on, this will allow them to plan their season differently, whether they’re invited or not” said race director Jean Francois Pescheux to velochronno.fr.
For me this looks curious. It’s tantamount to ASO saying “these decisions will annoy some, by telling them early it’ll give the more time to get over it”.
What’s going to happen?
Certainly it’s a difficult position to be in. Of the French squads only Ag2R – La Mondiale has guaranteed entry. So Pescheux has to pick between Cofidis, FDJ, Europcar, Saur-Sojasun and Bretagne-Schuller as he will certainly need a greater French presence with two if not three picks. You never know but I’d imagine Bretagne-Schuller gets overlooked.
- Cofidis have lost a few riders and in past years have struggled in the Tour de France, not winning a stage since 2008.
- FDJ look the most likely pick for me given they have a strong squad and have bolstered this with the likes of Fedrigo and Chainel.
- Europcar have a card to play in that the Tour starts in their home region. But that’s not an argument for a 21 day race, it’s more a desperate plea. But with Thomas Voeckler they have their attraction.
- Saur-Sojasun have the best French talent in Jerome Coppel but the rest of the squad looks light in places.
Then we need to ask about the non-French squads that are on the Pro Conti list.
- The stand out team is Geox-TMC with Menchov and Sastre and they are almost unmissable. Yet despite his podium pedigree, Menchov isn’t the most exciting candidate to liven up a race and the rest of the squad isn’t too promising. Several riders could shine in 2011 but the Tour is not the place to test a young prospect.
- Not so much wild card as wild dream would be the Colombian squad Colombia Es Pasion. They have not show much promise but the invitation of Colombians in the 1980s was a masterstroke.
- There are several Italian teams to pick but I suspect their focus will be on the Giro. Other teams might have their moments in the season but it’s hard to see Pescheux give the nod to the likes of Team Net App, CCC-Polsat or Caja Rural.
- Another curious pick would be a North American squad like Team Type 1, Spidertech or United Healthcare. But it would take a brave organiser to pick one of these squads ahead of Cofidis or Europcar.
The most likely option is picking Europcar, FDJ and Cofidis along with Geox. Certainly ASO is a conservative organisation with an eye on the bottom line. It’s no stranger to controversy but acts of charity to a small team or taking a gamble with a very wild card is not usually their method.
The nuclear option
Finally an idea from twitter. ASO could rip up the rulebook and declare Saxo Bank doesn’t have enough points to merit inclusion if you strip out Contador. Indeed you can run with this and say Astana have blown too many chances as well. But means feeding the UCI rulebook into the shredder. You’d need to do this very early in the season so the fuss can die down.