Tour de France Wildcards Announced

Organisers ASO have announced the three wildcard invitations for this summer’s Tour de France: Europcar, Cofidis and Sojasun.

It’s testimony to the Tour’s conservatism that the decision took months but in the end the result was as predictable as can be. There’s nothing wild about these wildcards.

Perhaps the delay was to find other teams capable of surprising but as the season progressed no team has made themselves essential for July meaning ASO opted for the default franco-français pick.

Europcar have always been the obvious pick. Jean-René Bernaudeau’s green team has consistently proved the most exciting team in the race in recent years and this year they’re dominating cycling’s second division. Here’s the win count from earlier in the week, you can add Natnael Berhane’s Turkish delight on top.

But after this the choice has got slim. Cofidis have a bigger budget and have been recruiting more riders but they’ve been a persistent disappointment in recent years and have not won a stage in the Tour since 2008 when Sylvain Chavanel won in Montluçon. They’ll hope Jérôme Coppel, Chris Le Mevel and Daniel Navarro can fix this but can you name a win by the team this year? I didn’t think so.

Sojasun are a step down in terms of budget but have been invited to the Tour for the last two years. Brice Feillu came close to a stage win last year but that’s about it. They’re a nice team with an emphasis on rider development but the budget means they can’t hold onto riders if they start winning and picking up points. Their best rider is Jonathan Hivert who has won all of the team’s three wins this year.

It’s not about the winning
The Tour needs French teams. FDJ and Ag2r-La Mondiale are already invited. Antoine Blondin had it right 50 years ago:

The Tour de France is for everyone but above all it belongs to the innumerable crowds
– L’Equipe, 13 July 1964

More French teams and more French stories are needed. The Tour de France is a journey, a soap opera and tales of suffering, failure and more are part of the event. For big roadside crowds many these stories have to be told in French, just as the Giro needs needs Italians.

We could have seen IAM, NetApp-Endura, MTN-Qhubeka or Colombia picked. All are likeable teams doing good things and have had their triumphs but none have offered results that made them the must-have team in July. IAM came closest and are probably likely to get invited next year, a new team takes time to gel and they will probably improve in time for next year but for now they have only two wins so far this season.

However ASO has offered wildcards to these teams for other races, for example NetApp-Endura get to ride the Dauphiné in June and did Paris-Roubaix. Others could well do the Vuelta, which is part-owned by ASO.

World Tour
In a way we’re seeing the World Tour teams distance their rivals. Only Europcar is capable of rivalling the big teams right now and it must manage its resources, for example it’s squad is not deep enough to cope with riding all three grand tours and the simultaneous demands of other races. Instead the top 18/19 teams have got almost all the best riders, for example if you want an exciting Colombian, Movistar comes with Quintana rather than having to invite Team Colombia. If you want to tap into the German audience well Marcel Kittel and André Greipel are coming.

No Russian Rush
A footnote to say with the Katusha team being awarded a spot as the World Tour’s 19th team it meant only three wildcards were available. On 15 February the Court of Arbitration ruled the team could join cycling’s first division, adding:

In view of the urgency of the matter, the Panel has issued its decision today, without the grounds, which will be issued in a few weeks.

70 days later and there’s still nothing.

33 thoughts on “Tour de France Wildcards Announced”

    • Nothing like a suicide breakaway to try and spoil the metronomic radio controlled bore fest that many a stage is. Mavericks, showmen, bravado and heroics – THATS WHAT WE WANT!

      • It helps liven up the racing but it’s often a sign of a team hunting for airtime rather than the win. Hopefully the likes of Coppel and Navarro can go in more intelligent breakaways and get a stage win.

          • But if you want more exciting racing, shouldn’t you want the wildcards to all be the strongest teams, regardless of nationality? Teams with proven, aggressive breakaway winners in stage races? At least based on the win tally, it seems recent history says Cofidis and Sojasun are not those teams.

      • +1 Whether they’re on the top-tier teams or wild cards, racers who try to win rather than not to lose, are what we need more of! It seems there are far too many “metronomic, radio-controlled bore fests” these days, and I’ve been watching this stuff since the 80’s.

        • Exactly. Finally it’s about numbers: the more riders willing to spoil the “metronomic, radio-controlled bore fests”, the bigger the coalition of riders and teams trying to sow chaos, the bigger the chances of a chaotic, spectacular, unpredictable race. (Not that Cofidis or Sojasun appear to be a contribution in that sense, but who knows).

  1. It’s been interesting to watch Cofidis and Sojasun being very aggressive, desperately trying to win a stage in Turkey to show for ASO and coming up short each time. Although maybe Cofidis will be awarded yesterday’s win eventually…

    • AD. I was begining to think no one was going to mention the unmentionable of yesterdays Turkish winner. The cycling press are expressing no surprise about an unknown rider out climbing everyone on his big ring. I think Walsh or Donati expressed it best when they/he said “the beast always regenerates”. There will be no change whilst the current system is in place, only damage to the sport we love.

    • I agree that at the TdF there should be french teams. However I disagree that teams that has no impact on the race gets invited year after year almost automatically. Europcar and FDJ are those french teams that are forces to be reckoned with. While Cofidis and (Saur-)Sojasun are not. In the last 3-2 years the best stage result they could achieve was one second place, and mainly top 5s and 10s. I think it would be fair to give a chance to Bretagne-Seche at least if we talking about the french teams.

    • It makes sense for the Tour de France to invite squads developing French riders. Although an international event, most of the support comes from France and the supporters would like to see a few of their own in the race. The UCI forced their hand when they chose 19 teams to fill the 18 slots of the Pro Tour.

  2. Is there something wrong with Rein Taaramäe? Usually he is Cofidis most visible rider, due to his talent and attacking style, but I haven’t seen him show up in any results this year.

  3. I think it’s a real shame. I know there’s a need for French teams to create a bit of drama, but did all three choices have to be French? IAM or MTN would have been more interesting choices and a chance for them to court some more support. I feel Sojasun have had their chance and not grasped it. Europcar is a no-brainer, Cofidis have some real talent in there, fair enough.

  4. I am surprised that with such obvious wildcard selection it’s taken them so long to announce them. I thought the longer they kept it secret the more surprising they would be

    • I think they were waiting for teams to do something but ultimately the likes of IAM, MTN-Qhubeka and NetApp-Endura didn’t bring any results in April to change things. So they fell back to the default setting of a French team and got Sojasun.

  5. I only watched 2 or 3 stages last year!
    I don’t know, it feels like the TDF is deja vu, same scenes
    each year, maybe even the same people standing along the
    road cheering on with the same t-shirts, banners, etc!

    Am finding the Giro and Vuelta more interesting to watch!
    Just hope Wiggin’s Sky gang does not do a TDF 2012 to the Giro
    and turn into a boring 3 weeks!

  6. With less doping (maybe) the better opportunity for all. When Lance-clones went postal, the clean ones lost, on any team. in any year, on any tour. It takes a while to re-build from the mess and sweep the others out, riders or administrators. The new champions are out there, they have to find the proper team to join. As far as the TdF, that they would select a French team is obvious, home turf, house rules.

  7. 19 World Tour teams 3 Wildcards 9 riders per team equals 198 riders. Why not have 8 rider teams and invite 24 or 25 teams, which would give 192 or 200 riders. Honestly, the Tour is becoming boring and way too predictable. 25 teams should help change that and maybe give an attacking rider a chance.

    • Not necessarily disagreeing, but it’s not just the number of riders you have to consider but logistically find space for an extra 2 or 3 teams of mechanics, the huge lorries they’ve got, indeed all the backroom stuff. Plus sky managed to control the race with in effect 8 riders last year, with one of those being a sprinter.

      In principle though I’d like to see something along these lines happen.

  8. The TDF needs French teams does it? Yes, I guess that makes sense, French fans will want to support French teams and French riders. Nationalistic passion at it’s best, nowt wrong with that.

    Funny thing is, I seem to recall someone claiming that ” people support riders they like regardless of team or country”. I think it’s completely wrong and shows a lack of knowledge to claim that Dutch, French, Belgian or Italian Cycling Fans aren’t hugely biased towards their local idols. They clearly are. What I’m curious about is why there is this desperation to denounce Nationalistic pride in British commentators? Why is it that French Nationalistic passion is accepted and welcomed as natural and ultimately good for the sport, whereas and kind of British/English Nationalism is sneered upon by the haughty intellectula?

    • An interesting point. I can’t answer for the British TV or others. But I’d say cycling fans tend to support riders rather than teams or nations.

      But most of the people by the road or watching on TV in France don’t follow the sport, they’re not cycling fans. They’re out for a show, to see the circus and picnic. They need hooks to watch and hearing interviews with riders is one thing, as is the chance to go and cheer on the local rider. Of course, it’s more than this, maybe I should explore it in a longer piece.

  9. I think perhaps there is a gulf between the cycling fan in the UK and the fan in Europe. In Europe it’s more tribal, more based on locality and nationality. More of a sport of the working-class. Maybe more like football is in the UK. Especially in France, where football teams don’t generally have the kind of fervoured tribal support. I’ve read your articles about cycling culture in Belgium – it’s what working men talk about in the pubs. I can’t imagine French or Belgian cycling fans having such a convivial attitude to cheering champions from other nations. They prefer to cheer their own heroes.

  10. There have been studies indicating riders would prefer to win a stage in their own countries than winning outside their region, if given the selection. A person from the Basque region would gain more pride if he won a race in the Pyrenees than in Oman. It would reverberate better. This is also the same on special races such as Bastille Day.

  11. Chrisman:

    I kindly disagree, Listening to EuroSport is like listening to the Team Sky fan club, would think they would be in the hospital after tripping on their own tongues whenever they mention Sky. Interestingly, Sky sports is more even keeled.

    • There are Brit’s like me and I am not the only one, who detest this and detest SKY because it stands for MURDOCH! and to hell with him and his scum business.

Comments are closed.