Wednesday Shorts

ASO have announced the wildcard invitations for Paris-Nice, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France. No surprises: as predicted it’s Bora-Argon 18, Bretagne-Séché, Cofidis, Europcar and MTN-Qhubeka with Bora’s case strengthened by confirmation of the recent ARD broadcast deal.

In times past wildcards had an exclusive element, to invite one team was to shun another but this time there are no obvious missing names from the Tour de France.

Bretagne-Séché’s invitation is understandable given their nationality and if they’re unlikely to become the talk of July their presence hardly excludes a must-have team. Besides the Tour has the paradox of being a global event that needs a large domestic contingent. Team Colombia can be exciting but they’ve yet to land a big result; a Giro invite looks likely and hopefully they win this when they’re announced in the coming days.

If the Tour’s gone for five invites, Paris-Nice only has three in Cofidis, Europcar and Brétagne-Séché while the Dauphiné picks four with Cofidis, Europcar, Brétagne-Séché and MTN-Qhubeka. It’s not unusual to see these races not filling up the field, 2009 had just 20 teams. It’s cheaper to run the race with fewer hotel rooms too.

Smaller teams? Christian Prudhomme has said he’d like 22 teams of eight riders instead of nine. Not to save money but to spice up the race by make it harder for teams control. But it’s not happening yet.

Big deal It’s still the off-season so cycling news is scarce but it’s reminder of just how big the Tour is that the invitational picks of smaller teams makes the headlines. It’s big news now but some of the invites will be populating early breakaways and fighting for the mountains jersey in the opening week. But simply participating in the Tour de France can bring more valuable publicity than a win in many another race on the calendar.

Are MTN-Qhubeka Africa’s first team in the Tour de France? Yes in the sense it’s registered in South Africa but the Barloworld team was African in sponsorship and more – they signed a young Kenyan named Chris Froome – but registered in Britain for tax purposes when it rode in the Tour de France in 2007 and 2008. Robbie Hunter became the first African stage winner of the Tour de France. MTN is controversial telecoms operator at times but you have to love Qhubeka’s mission to provide people with sturdy bikes to help kids get to school and others have a bike for transport. But it’s no charity pick, the team has a very strong roster and clever management who are getting all the invites without having to pay all the UCI World Tour fees.

Montagne de Lure

Anyone know the route for Paris-Nice yet? Now we know the teams, what about the route for Paris-Nice? It’s less than eight weeks away. The 21 virages blog has pieced together the likely stages but there’s nothing official yet. This matters because teams need to know what’s coming up to help plan matters; last year Sky switched Richie Porte to Tirreno-Adriatico which frustrated race director Christian Prudhomme but Sky said they thought he was going to ride until the relatively flat route was announced, a course suited to puncheurs rather than climbers as opposed to 2013 when the giant Montagne de Lure finish was used to win the race: QED with Carlos Betancur’s win. We can imagine the route, the race has it’s formulaic aspect, a prologue TT, two flat stages for the sprinters, some hills, one summit finish but will it have a time trial midway or the Col d’Eze TT?

Mont Faron Jean Christophe Péraud

At least Paris-Nice looks set to go ahead. Every year there are doubts whether the Tour Méditerranéen goes ahead or not because it’s run on a slim budget and there have been disputes over the late payment of prize money. But this time things seem more serious, the event isn’t on the UCI calendar at all and rising police costs are hitting many French races making budgets even tighter. There’s a flicker of hope with the presence of a “teaser” video on the race website but this a retrospective of last year rather than a preview for this year. The race matters because it’s got one of the first summit finishes of the year, the classic Mont Faron finish. Last year Jean-Christophe Péraud won on this climb to start his impressive season.

Who’s the world number one rider?
Under the new rules published on the UCI website Heinrich Hausser Joe Cooper (Avanti) should be leading the world rankings after collecting 30 points from the Australian New Zealand road race championship and more from the NZ time trial championship. The rules say the points are supposed to be added up every Monday only there’s nothing from the UCI so far, the rankings page is asleep. Are the UCI breaking their own rules?

Marc Madiot

Marc Madiot is the latest to complain about the UCI’s stealth introduction of new rankings. The FDJ boss joins Vincent Lavenu of Ag2r La Mondiale who tells L’Equipe if he knew the points scale was going to change he would have hired different riders in order to complement the new system. It seems the sudden introduction has united team managers against the UCI, at least in opposition to this system and L’Equipe says there will be a compromise solution, the individual ranking will go ahead as proposed but the rankings of World Tour teams will continue to be based on the old system from 2014. Confusing.

Thibaut Pinot Tour de France

FDJ hits the jackpot
Finally some numbers to please Marc Madiot. French lottery company FDJ announced its results and 2014 was a bumper year for sales of lottery tickets and scratchcards. The Thibaut Pinot effect? Maybe this helped but it’s more to do with continued growth and the FIFA World Cup boosting sports betting. There’s obviously a big demographic overlap between lotteries and cycling given three world tour teams have lotteries as backers (FDJ, Lotto-Soudal, LottoNL-Jumbo). FDJ as a team are still searching for a co-sponsor, they need more funds to retain existing riders and recruit more.

23 thoughts on “Wednesday Shorts”

  1. Not a reflection on INRNG (who does exceptional work), but it would be nice if the media did it’s research. Perhaps it is the fault of Le Tour for trying to gain headlines, and conveniently ignoring its own history. MTN-Qhubeka is the first Arican Trade team to enter Le Tour, but it is not the first African team.

    The first African Team in Le Tour was in 1950, when the tour did not allow trade teams, and the race utilized composite national & regional teams. The North African Team had 6 riders (4 Algerians and 2 Moroccans). Abdel-Kader Zaaf was their leader, a very experienced and unpredictable racer. He was one of the biggest characters the Tour has ever seen, being best known for collapsing, remounting hours later, and heading down the parcours the wrong way. He was Lanterne Rouge in 1951.

    As an aside, while I applaud the efforts of MTN-Qhubeka, I have a hard time looking at them as an “African Team”, when the majority of their star power has been imported from other continents. They are now really a multi-national team; of course this is really not different than any other so called “insert nation” Team.

      • Semantics perhaps, or maybe contemporaneous convenience. They were officially the North African team, which perhaps was convenient for Le Tour then. The riders were from their nations, even though some of them lived and raced mostly in Europe.

        I just find it disingenuous for Le Tour to ignore their own history, when the event’s prestige is largely based upon it. Nonetheless, good for Qhubeka for getting the invite.

  2. Our sport of pro road racing is a lovely amalgam of differing interest with no coherent business plan or vision .

    But thank god its not like the NFL or FIFA with more money then god and no passion.

  3. Sorry for the bringng this topic up, but it seems that, once again, the Giro will be snubbed by more riders than it would make sense, especially when it is more TT-friendly than the Tour. Any idea why TJVG will not be in Italy and what can be done about it?

    • At least in the TJVG case, the fact is nobody in the US cares about the Giro. Heck, nobody in the US cares about anything except the Tour that isn’t in the United States. If it is a stage race and not the Tour, it is considered the minor leagues by the mainstream here. Some of that is tv coverage (NBCSN is on far more cable/satellite systems than Bein Sport for the Giro or Universal for the Vuelta and ESPN only mentions cycling around the time of the Tour) and some of that is the way Lance conditioned American audiences that the Tour was really the only thing that ever could, would or should matter.

      All of this is to say, the average American (not the true cycling fan but the ones with a passing interest that really drive tv ratings and general perceptions) views winning the Giro about on par or lower than winning the Tour of California. Needless to say, why on Earth would TJVG want to suffer to win the Giro (as horrible as that sounds)?

      • Its not just down to what Tejay does or doesnt want.

        Its no different from Team Sky and a good number of others. The Tour is the biggest prize for almost all sponsors, and in BMC’s case, also Andy Rhis. Ultimately Tejay rides where he’s told – just as Froome, after stamping his little feet when this year’s Tour route was announced, was put in his place pretty sharpish and told he would be riding the Tour.

        • Generally true, but have a look at JV’s (whether you like it or not, he looks to know a thing or two about sponsors and marketing, surviving in a billionaire sugardaddies environment) Twitter profile photo.
          You can’t do that with any fifth place in the Tour – and a podium wouldn’t be as good, neither.

      • Why would TJVG want to suffer etc.? Because to become a winner, you’d better start winning. And you may just happen to have more chances to win something that (accidentally) suits you – or looks just “easier” – than something that doesn’t. The risk of being content with your eternal fourth-place or such is quite high. Maybe Tejay is enthusiastic with the perspective of being the next Andy (if he’s lucky), but, if it’s so, this attitude won’t help him much along his career.

        Teams and sponsors would better think in the medium-long term if they want to get results. But, yes, I know, nowadays this isn’t a problem affecting only cycling.

        I agree on what everyone said about US market and so, but marketing is also about *pushing*, creating your image working with what you have. And if you should have a Giro win, it’s something with which you could work quite well. Yeah, if you’d got a Tour win (or podium) you’d spare a good lot of work, but – will you *have* it?

        • Agree with Gabriel and others on this thread.

          Although off-topic any US GT podium placing albeit, Spain, Italy or France goes miles as every cyclery in the US (350 million people one of largest cycling markets in the world) will have a poster up with US rider. And sell tons more bikes and equipment as we saw with LA.

          Yet we in the US who are the 1% and follow all races, will be collectively be holding our breaths and crossing our fingers that we don’t have another PED/LA situation. I fear that may present a situation like Germany and our US broadcasters might “go into the cold”

          Unlike Italy and France and most of you in Europe, we have so few pure cycle fans that we tread lightly as it has serious implications for us her in the new world. No disrespect to my fellow euro
          fans, but you have a larger segment of your populations which will support “hiccups” in the pro cycling peleton.

      • Americans love big ticket events. TdF, Olympics, Super Bowl, etc, but the smaller events don’t seem to move our richter scale.

        Personally, I love the smaller races, more access, easier to get around and yes, often times the Tour of Utah passes through my berg if not my neighborhood. People seem more tee’d off at the inconvenience of a road being closed for 15 mins than at the excitement or interest in a bike race passing through.

  4. Why doesn’t FDJ sponsor the Tour Mediterranéen instead of Thibaut Pinot? I don’t care how many riders get sponsorship but I do care for races getting sponsors.

    • This surely is a rhetoric question? Because T. Pinot gets airtime, covers and articles the whole year – a race is,if at all, mentioned on racetime and thats that. And people get emotional (and in consequence spend money) for other people, not for races.

  5. i don’t fully understand the points system but wouldn’t Joseph Cooper be the leader having won the New Zealand national champs road race (presumably equal to AUS?) and also 2nd in the TT?

    not really the point i know, but does illustrate how complicated it is to keep up with a ranking like this without an automatic system, even at this quiet time of the year.

    • You’re quite right! He should be leading with this, I didn’t cross-check the results there.

      To answer your comment below, the rankings are of all riders together, so from the top pros down to U23, all will be on the same long list.

      • Yep, Cooper is on 40 points: 30 from the NZ road race and 10 from the ITT.

        However, I thought it was a 365-day rolling ranking, so Valverde (or whoever) should still be top, shouldn’t he?

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