Team Tour Rejects

Every year a few riders lose out on a start in the Tour de France. The likes of Caleb Ewan and Nacer Bouhanni are left fuming and other strong riders who may have been able to go for stage wins are left frustrated too. At the same time the wildcard teams lack lustre, reduce to going on fruitless long range breaks for notoriety. What if instead of inviting an uncompetitive team from the lesser ranks, a special invite went to a composite team made up of those who lost out in the selection for their team?

One solution would be to invite three usual teams from the pro conti ranks and then, the novelty, form a fourth team out of riders who have missed out on selection for the Tour. They’re ready to race and keen to prove a point and with guaranteed entry into the Tour de France there should be sponsors willing to pony up some cash to fund costs and expenses like staff and a team bus in return for their name on the jersey. Perhaps the riders can keep their team bikes.

Another solution is would be to allow rejected riders to make a temporary transfer, to create draft system where eligible riders, with the consent of their current teams, could put themselves forward and if a wildcard teams wants they could ask them to join for July. Either way there’s a supply of strong riders and a demand to see them in the race.

It’s not new. In the past the Tour de France used to be ridden by national teams only plenty of riders not picked for their home nation would find refuge in another squad. For example in 1956 Roger Walkowiak was dropped from the French team after bailing out of the Vuelta a España early – NB it was held in April then – and instead rode the Tour de France with the regional team “Nord-Est-Centre” and won the race with them.

Only it’s stacked with problems. It could be gamed, a rider may have another jersey for July but they’re still linked to their existing team and so could work, overtly or covertly, for their real employer. They also need helpers, to bring Caleb Ewan is one thing but where does his lead out train go?

It could also get very fraught for team cohesion. The Tour de France is the big shop window and riders left on the bench may want to take this opportunity to shine. But their team may have plans for them later in the season, which is exactly the case of Nacer Bouhanni. He wasn’t selected for the Tour de France and the team have told him he will ride the Vuelta instead. If Bouhanni did do the Tour the risk is he’d be fatigued for the Vuelta instead so the chances of Cofidis agreeing to let him ride the Tour are low even if the rules allowed for it.

Then even if this system did exist it would only reinforce the Tour de France’s central position on the calendar, where even riders who can’t ride then find a way to take part and therefore reduce the chances of them racing elsewhere in the coming months.

Lastly those wildcard teams are not so bad. If they didn’t race then who would go up the road? Dion Smith has the polka dot jersey today, Kevin Ledanois the day before and Sylvain Chavanel did a long breakaway, it’s not gripping action but nor would be more sprinters sitting tight all day.

There are riders forced to sit out the Tour de France and their presence in July could be more exiting than some of the wildcard teams. The idea of a team of rejects has a certain charm, like something out of a Hollywood film: a bunch of down-and-outs determined to redeem themselves, prove their boss wrong and make the Tour even more exciting. That said there’s a pile of practical objections to the idea listed above and there must be more still. Besides if the wildcard teams don’t get the mouth watering ahead of the race they fulfil their role. If anything limiting the number of star riders in the Tour de France ought to make upcoming races like the Vuelta that bit better.

46 thoughts on “Team Tour Rejects”

  1. Your conclusion brings to mind “The Dirty Dozen”.
    Although, in this case, more an ‘Orrible Octet.

    An interesting concept but it’s difficult to see the teams being agreeable?

    • The system has changed, in the past there were no automatic invites/wildcards until the UCI ProTour in 2005. Maybe the best result would be Europcar in 2011 with Pierre Rolland winning on Alpe d’Huez and Voeckler’s long spell in yellow before finishing fourth overall.

      • I’d nominate the hapless ADR team of 1989. LeMond hadn’t even been paid and I wonder how they came up with the entry fee? I ‘m pretty sure TdF was still making teams pay back then as I remember Jim Ochowicz telling us around that time – “For $30K you get entry into the race, hotels, meals, the use of two team cars…and a couple of towels.”

      • Barloworld won two stages and the KOM jersey (and second in the Green Jersey) in 2007. And Vande Velde was also 4th for Garmin in 2008.

    • 2010 was a good year for wildcard teams.

      Cadel Evans wore the yellow jersey for a day.
      Anthony Charteau won the mountains jersey.
      Hesjedal, Rodriguez and Horner all placed in the top ten on GC.
      Team RadioShack won the teams classification.

  2. Interesting idea, but it brings back (bad) memories of, what was it again, ZG and Telecom back-in-the-day? I had a friend working with the team (he was from the ZG squad) and it was a real joke. But your NATIONAL teams mention makes me wonder why TdF doesn’t (say once every 4-8 years?) switch to national teams? I would LOVE to watch the Italians vs the French, the Brits, the Dutch, etc. A world championship race every day for 3 weeks!!! Of course the bike biz would hate the idea as much as they did in the days of Desgrange but could they swallow their greed for the good of the sport once every 4-8 years as the football clubs do for the World Cup? WTF not?

          • One of the few times I disagree with Larry: the less nationalism is involved the better as far as I’m concerned. And if you think the fans behave like idiots now wait until they have someone riding for ‘their’ country to support.

          • J Evans – have you any evidence to back up this claim – “… fans behave like idiots now wait until they have someone riding for ‘their’ country to support.”?
            I’ve been to a couple of World’s and noticed what I’d describe as the reverse. It’s like the Olympics, people cheer for their countrymen/women but it’s a respectful rivalry.

          • The Tour attracts a lot more cretins than the WC does. Add nationalism into that and it could well be worse.
            Besides, in aspects of society, nationalism is a negative – and false – construct.

  3. I love the idea! Then I have this image of Bouhanni and Ewan trying to share a sprint train with which they have not worked and a sudden manager (who would manage this Hollywood team?) trying to keep everyone racing in the same direction.

    If racers would only follow a script . . . . .

    It is a fun idea! Thank you for suggesting it. And please DO keep doing previews, no matter what the side shows foment. Your previews are superb

  4. One other disadvantage that wasn’t mentioned but that regularly arises in sports where there are national selection interests clashing with those of big budget teams (such as in the sport that was not going to be mentioned on this blog during TdF) – crashes/injuries. If a rider from Team Reject crashes – who pays for the time spent recovering (and medical bills etc…)? Fatigue is one, but if one of your strong riders is sidelined for a long time following a crash you will not be a happy sponsor/manager.

    • Good point. BMC have already said their riders can’t go to the European championships this August because of this risk, or at least cited this as a reason among others for stopping them going to Glasgow.

  5. Minor typo: ‘For example in 1956 Roger Walkowiak was dropped from the French team are bailing out of the Vuelta a España early’

    -> after bailing out, I imagine.

  6. Something like the Barbarians in Rugby. Like the idea, but as you say plenty of issues to get round. Taking the Barbarians comparison further they could wear their regular team socks/shorts.

  7. An alternative model could be to pick a composite team of riders from teams who were not selected to ride the Tour. For example many fans would be interested to watch Mathieu van der Poel, Wout Van Aert, and also the best cyclists from countries who have no representative in the Tour. This model would eliminate the problem with divided loyalties to their existing team.

    • But where do you draw the line, and who selects those who were not selected to the Tour into this non-selected team ? We are talking about (just estimated) hundred riders, you can’t just pick the ones you like, somebody then has to boil them down to an eight rider squad. What about the two-times non-selected? Team Catch22 galore

  8. A version of this happens quite frequently to presumably allow riders ride their home races, such as the GB team at the Tour of Yorkshire or the UNISA team at the Tour Down Under, although I assume that this must be dependent on the rider’s regular pro team not competing at the race itself (e.g. Ben Swift in the GB team at Yorkshire), so wouldn’t be an “Allstars” in the same way.

  9. Could always just go back to nine man teams. It’s not like the crashes have disappeared… Ewan would be riding then if not Bou who’s a different ballon game (which we’re not talking about).

    • Races have been more open, it seems, this year – less controlled by big teams. It’s far from proven yet, but it certainly seems worth continuing the experiment – and, who knows, maybe going down to seven per team.
      (I don’t think fewer crashes was really the primary aim: 176 people on bikes in a pack are still going to crash.)
      Somebody always gets left out, particularly sprinters who ride for GC teams, riders who are moving to other teams and riders who are under-performing. If they had nine, would either of those teams picked Ewan or Bou? Probably not: MS would have preferred another domestique and Cofidis would then have two (sort of) sprinters in competition with each other.

      • You missed Prudhomme then I take it on the coverage? They had a piece were he explained it was all about safety. They then talked to DS’s, riders etc who all had a different take on the reasoning…

        As I said, I think Ewan would have gone but not Bou as that’s about other things. The point was you can’t have everyone there, plus ‘safety’ with less riders and it harder to control. Something has to give. The biggest names are at the biggest teams so the smaller the team size the more likely they are to miss out. The bigger the team the more easier they can control a race. Personally I don’t think going from 9 to 8 has or will have much of an impact control wise in GTs. We had some fun in the Giro chasing breaks but that was more down to a dearth of sprinters and therefore willing chasers than anything else. I think you need to get down to at least 6 to really see an impact. The problem is that’s fine for a one day race but it’s not going to work well in a GT where one picked up cold could decimate a team.

        • As I say on the Stage 4 preview, I’ve only watched the last 10k of the stages thus far (didn’t even bother with yesterday’s). As for Prudhomme, what he says publicly is not necessarily what he really thinks.
          I think eight is bound to make a small impact – if you lose two riders, which many teams will, you’re down to six. And I’d gladly see them try seven.
          If you lose a lot of your team to illness/whatever, that’s just the way it goes – you’d just have to follow the other teams (as GC contenders on relatively poor teams do) and do your own attacking.

  10. Fun idea! This bit sums up the Vuelta though, no? Haha 👇

    “The idea of a team of rejects has a certain charm, like something out of a Hollywood film: a bunch of down-and-outs determined to redeem themselves, prove their boss wrong and make the Tour even more exciting.”

  11. It’s a nice idea but would take away the chance to experience the tour from 8 ‘lesser’riders (but still pros) and give it to 8 well-paid blokes who have had/will have the chance to do so again.

    For film references I was thinking of The Expendable, though my film watching culture is low compared to many of you!

  12. While we are rewriting ASOs business model: Introducing the NON-TTT.
    Not 18 teams of 8, but 8 teams of 18.
    One rider from each team has to cooperate with riders from each of the 17 other teams to get a good time for GC.
    The GC guys will want to push on but they need the help of riders who are maybe not so motivated to help them. Other ‘teams’ of journeymen could reach an understanding and smash it. Obviously everyone in the ‘team’ will want to finish at ST.
    Another day there could be a swap round of sprint and KoM spots on the parcours.

  13. Seems like a good idea on paper but one fraught with difficulties when you look into it, such as those that you list. One thing they could do that would solve a bit of the problem would be to change that rule that allows transfers on August 1st to July 1st. Then out of favour riders that know they are changing teams and aren’t including in their current teams plans could move early. I also think they should allow those riders, or just generally out of favour riders, to go out on loan for the rest of the season to a team that does want them. So say Ewan who is moving to Lotto and probably has strained relations with MS could go to Wanty for the rest of the season. It would have worked last year for Viviani too, and even Wiggins at Sky when he had fell out with them and missed riding the Tour in the UK. It works in Football. The team taking the loaned rider would pay all or some of his salary, they get a big name rider for a while and the rider gets to do a big race they’d otherwise have missed.

  14. Not a good idea, without Continental teams and smaller races pro cycling would die.
    For example Axeon-Hagens Berman does more for cycling than Trek-Segafredo.
    Do you want to watch the same top riders racing the same kind of race every week with the same domestiques ? Does a smaller sponsor (5-6 million euros) has the right to exist ?
    And get rid of the Continental teams (assuming that Calmejane for example is not as good as great WT riders like Didier, Irizar, Reijnen and others who get dropped in a break before riders from Continental teams do) ?

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