Tour de France Wildcards

The final invitations have gone out and B&B Hotels – Vital Concept and Arkéa-Samsic get the last two places for the Tour de France. They’re obvious picks but there’s a little bit of detail to explore.

First there used to be four wildcard invitations but with Cofidis moving up to the World Tour that means 19 teams in the top level with automatic invites, and so three remaining spots among the ProTeams. New for 2020 is that the top-ranked ProTeam from last year Total Direct Energie – more about them in a minute – gets an invite too, leaving just two places to be filled by the organisers.

Arkéa-Samsic (an online bank and an employment agency) are the obvious choice, Warren Barguil is a rare World Tour level rider outside of the World Tour but last year they went on a spending spree and hired Nairo Quintana and his entourage, plus Nacer Bouhanni. When the stories first emerged last May about Quintana it sounded fanciful and even now it’s a done deal it’s taking some adjustment to get used to seeing him in their red jersey. Even when he has a bad Tour he can win big mountain stages and so must be a dream signing for a squad that’s yet to win a World Tour race, indeed on paper they’re a more promising prospect for July than notionally bigger World Tour squads like Israel and NTT. So far, so obvious but it’ll be interesting to see how the team fares this year given the big changes and the fresh expectations as they’ve had a chaotic streak. You might remember them changing bike sponsor mid-season in 2018. André Greipel was a big signing last year but had a small season. Even victories in smaller races .1 and .2 races have been few and far between. Late last year they applied for a World Tour licence but they never had the ranking points in the first place and duly lost their application fee. In short the management needs to prove itself as much as the riders.

B&B Hotels-Vital Concept (budget hotels and farm supplies) have been overlooked in the last two years when Wanty-Gobert pipped them. The sponsors’ patience was being tested but they’ve stuck with the team and now got the reward. Only while excluded from the Tour de France they’ve never given the Tour de France organisers reason to regret their decision, recent performances in Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné have been discreet to put it kindly. Bryan Coquard is good but has yet to win a World Tour race and Pierre Rolland has been unlucky with crashes of late but hasn’t won a race of any kind since joining the team. Still, as invitees they’re not just going to be breakaway cannon fodder with Coquard looking for hilly sprints and Rolland a long shot for the mountains jersey, they can start many a stage with an plan rather than firing riders into moonshot breakaways for the sake of “animation”.

Total Direct Energie (an alternative energy supplier) get an automatic invite because they topped the UCI rankings last year. The problem was that achieving this at the end of the season didn’t bring anything else, there’s no increase in budget and it was too late to go shopping for more riders. Consequently they’ve turned down the Giro and oddly enough the Dauphiné too (France’s second biggest stage race). They could probably count on riding the Tour de France all along regardless of the rule change but their problem is they haven’t beefed up the roster, they only twice cracked the top-10 in the last Tour and often missed the breakaway on the key breakaway stages. They might be backed by oil major Total but this happened by accident following a takeover, rather than a deliberate marketing decision and so far there’s no sign of any petrodollars pouring into the team. They retain a handy spring classics squad in Niki Terpstra, Damien Gaudin, Anthony Turgis and Adrien Petit but Lilian Calmejane is an outsider for a stage win in July at best.

The teams who lose out are Circus-Wanty Gobert but they’ve ridden the last two editions and having lost Guillaume Martin they’ve replaced him with any “must have” riders for July. Alpecin-Fenix aren’t in a hurry to ride and star attraction Mathieu van der Poel has other goals this summer which negates their invitation. And that’s it, the Italian teams will be rinsed by the Giro, the Spanish ones put all their eggs in the Vuelta basket and none of the other squads look ready for a grand tour.

An end or a means to an end?
So what about the invite, it’s what happens in July that counts? Just starting the Tour de France is a big deal as sponsors know there will be airtime and column inches, VIPs can be invited and promotional campaigns launched. Actual sporting success is harder to come by and a stage win or the yellow jersey for a day remains a goal but arguably it’s a bonus on top.

Frankly there’s not much excitement about filling the remaining places. Yet this still ought to matter because the alternative scenario is worse. Imagine no challenger teams getting a chance and we’d have a closed system with 19 top teams and the teams on the outside would be even weaker because any rider outside the World Tour would know they have zero chance of doing the Tour de France so even fewer top talents would sign with second tier teams, a self-fulfilling scenario that would shrink the peloton yet further. Finally note the rude health of French cycling as there will be six French teams in Nice, three in the world tour and now three invitees.

Predictable choices? Yes, to the point that this blog post has been sitting as a draft for a month now awaiting the news. Arkéa-Samsic are a must-have thanks to Nairo Quintana and even if you’re not sold on him, tell me what Israel or NTT can do better with their guaranteed starts. Total Direct Energie get a regulatory invite but they’re in a delicate position, they had a weak showing last year but haven’t made any signings that will fix this but Terpstra and Calmejane can still shine. B&B-Vital get the last slot, they’re the best of the remaining picks but hardly an essential ingredient for July but unlike wildcards of the past they can start many stages with a plan rather than just hoping to fire riders up the road on sprint stages.

41 thoughts on “Tour de France Wildcards”

  1. It is a shame event organisers can’t be left to invite the teams they deem essential to their events long term success.

    The dark shadow of the all controlling and interfering UCI needs to concentrate on its correct function of the overseeing the sports rules and regulations, rather than sticking its nose into the commercial world where it has little expertise and has even little or no input into the organisational aspects.

    • Not sure if there’s a dark shadow here, the race organisers have been partly behind the rule to reward the top Pro Team each year getting a guaranteed spot and want to keep up the wildcard system. They’ve also wanted a promotion/relegation system but not got this.

    • The race organisers have their events in the WorldTour system voluntarily.

      If they don’t like the rules, they can ask for the race to a lower classification which would have different rules around which teams may be invited.

      The Tour Down Under was taken the step of sticking with Pro classification for their women’s race this year despite having been offered WorldTour status. The reason for this decision is that the Pro category allows them to invite a couple of domestic teams, giving those national-level riders the opportunity for exposure to international quality racing.

      • The Japan Cup in particular is a race that could probably be a WT race, but the organizers want more Japanese continental teams than the rules would allow.

        Always think the ToC moving to WT was a mistake for that reason.

  2. Is Coquard good? By that I mean is he 2020 grand tour hilly sprint finish stage podium good? It strikes me that there will always be half a dozen stronger riders ahead of him in any world tour race.

  3. Nairo Quintana takes a tonne of heat, and clearly he was hyped to win the TdF every year (just as 10 other “super talents” were too – which is impossible for them all to win each year) BUT, every single year he finishes top-10 in at one or usually 2 Grand Tours.

    At 29, he still has multiple years at his peak and all it takes is one really great build-up and he could win his third GT.

    It’d be foolish to count him out, great choice by ASO – interesting that their “wildcard” will be one of the best teams in the GC race and it’ll be up to the lower World Tour teams to justify their invite by animating the breakaways!

    • Come on man. Quintana is a two time grand tour winner but when it comes to Tour time these days, and when he makes it his sole target, he comes 10th. Now clearly part of this is down to the fact he was racing at the tactically inept Movistar up to now but at the end of the day this guy should be top 3 EVERY TIME. He is racing the Froomes, Dumoulins and Roglics. But, to be frank, they wipe the floor with him every time.

      So then he goes and wins a stage because every single GC guy just doesn’t see him as a threat at all so they just let him go and we get the stupid “Quintana has still got it” headlines.

      No he hasn’t. He hasn’t been a threat for 2 or 3 years now.

    • No way – the GT’s are more open now than in a couple decades. All it takes is one really solid build-up and you can win because there are a handful of riders who are talented enough to win.

      Quintana’s last 5-years were negatively affected by two factors: 1) Movistar’s inept strategy and 2) riding 2 GTs each year for GC. It isn’t possible to be a legit GC contender for 2 GT’s per year, and it always has a negative affect the following year(s).

      If he finally has intelligent management, then he’ll race well.

  4. “At 29, he still has multiple years at his peak and all it takes is one really great build-up and he could win his third GT.”

    Nairo Quintana has looked in his early forties since he hit the scene in 2010, aged ’20’…He looks older than Chris Horner….Perhaps he will have similar results as he ages

    • +1. I’m convinced Q isn’t even close to 29. His Giro and Tour successes were 2013-15. Maybe then he was in his early 30s, typical peak for Grand Tours, which would put him late 30s now. He’s certainly good enough for stage wins in the very top tours and podiums in shorter tours, but he’s no longer a Giro/Tour contender, IMO.

  5. Arkea-Samsic don’t have the team to support a podium bid by Quintana while thier second best (or maybe best) climber, Barguil, is probably more interested in his own Tour chances than those of Quintana. And if the team could choose, a stage win for Barguil would provide better publicity for their sponsor’s products than a win for Quintana. Does the thinness of the GC squad also indicate a parallel run at sprint stages for Bouhanni with two riders as sprint support? That surely depends Bouhanni’s early season results and confidence. So:
    – GC/Mountain stage : Quintana, Barguil plus three
    – Sprint stage : Bouhanni plus two

      • Possibly, but now he has Barguil to aid him (at least I assume Barguil has Nairo-duty if he’s in or close to yellow), and in the past Barguil has proven to not be the most loyal rider. Arguably it depends on the situation (in the Vuelta Barguil and Kelderman were both only in the top 15, not close to race lead) and maybe the team will handle things differently (Sunweb of course very focused on team effort; Arkea is French and so is Barguil so he might have more of a free role), but Quintana could find himself in similar situations during the race. And at least Movistar had plenty of other top riders to support him, Arkea is probably lacking a bit in that department.

        • Didn’t Barguil get bumped from Sunweb because he had a barely disguised desire to do anything except ride his own race?

          Sounds like just the guy to have fighting with you in the trenches.

          • He was leaving the team anyway by then. It’s not his style to ride tempo and his contract is up at Arkéa this year too so hard to see him sit still this time. Which is why seeing how the management run things will be interesting, it’s like they found a gold bar in the street last year but we’ll see if they can manage all that goes with it. It’s not necessarily complicated but at the same time they don’t have the budget to pay Barguil a sum big enough where he’d fetch bottles and think of his bank balance, à la Kwiatkowski.

          • They took him out of the Vuelta (I think he rode some races for the team after that though) because he refused to help Kelderman after a mechanical/flat tire, so it wasn’t even for not riding tempo . It probably also didn’t help for Barguil’s attitude that he had roughly the same GC ranking as Kelderman at that point.

  6. Everyone here already knows how dumb I think this system is so I won’t repeat it again. Is it next season they’ll try to prune the WT teams down or will the threat of legal action doom the sport to suffer under “Heinie’s Folly” forever?

      • I can’t see what’s wrong with allowing races to invite who they want and letting teams choose whether or not they want to accept those invitations. That way you’d get the top teams being invited (and mostly accepting those invites) and you’d avoid having teams who have no interest in a race being forced to turn up – e.g. Euskatel trundling around Paris-Roubaix, with little or no attempt to win it.
        For me, the races stand alone and don’t need a series linking them altogether. Plus, this relative complexity was one of the things that piqued my interest when I first got into cycling, rather than there being a simple ‘league’.

        • In practical terms, the biggest problem is how broadcasting rights get factionalized. In the US, for instance, you need to sign up to NBC Gold to get the ASO/UCI races, and FloBikes to get the RCS/Flanders Classics races. A single package of a healthy (10-15) number of top tier classics events with consistent branding/TV packaging would be good for the one-day sport, I think.

    • We’re also read the “Heinie’s Folly” line only about a thousand times, so time to give it a rest, eh?

      The UCI keeps talking about reducing the number of WT teams, but I can’t see it happening, or if the cuts come they they will be minor. The aim is to expand the reach and dollar value of pro cycling, and reducing teams in the top tier (as well as global races) would seem to be an odd way to go about that.

  7. Might have been more interesting to get MVDP’s team in it rather than B&B Hotels – Vital Concept.

    Like the person above, I’ve often wondered about Quintana’s age – would explain his appearance and his career trajectory.

    • The mystery to me would in that case be when, why and how was the wrong birth date entered in his documents. I mean, Colombia in 1990s was a poor country but it certainly wasn’t a third world country where parents do not know what year it is or where children enter school, if they do, at some point between the age of, say, 5-10 yrs or where a clerk enters a birth date that first comes to mind when someone applies for a passport.

      There have been some cases when officials have purposefully made their athletes “younger” in order to gain greater success at international junior championships, but unless I’m mistaken the sports were football and track and the athletes involved from various African countries. I certainly don’t remember any infamous case in road cycling or even suspicision raised in media.

      • I just meant he could have lied (documents can be faked, etc.) – nationality’s got nothing to do with it.
        Or, equally, he could just be old-looking and peaked too soon/lost his ambition/etc.

        • Honestly, ridiculous comment – he won the Giro at 24, Vuelta at 26, 2nd at Giro at 27, 4th at Vuelta at 29… clearly he is still a world class rider. People just expected him to dominate and win every GT from 2014-2034, which is more the fault of the fans blowing expectations out of proportion.

          Quintana’s story has more to do with the nature of cycling, it’s full of riders who have the talent to win a GT, but only a rare rider can dominate and win multiple GTs.

          • The results you list suggest someone who peaked in his mid-20s, which is comparatively young when set against his grand tour peers.
            Also, I didn’t way he wasn’t a ‘world class rider’, I’m not a fan (I have no strong feelings about him) and I never ‘expected him to dominate and win every GT from 2014-2034’.
            All that comes from you: all I’m saying is that in 2018 and 2019 (and arguably 2017) he has not been the rider he was.

          • In a way he may have peaked, but 4th at the Vuelta doesn’t indicate he is finished or past his peak at all. For a few years he kept trying to do 2 GT’s, but that may have had an effect on him… it often does for others.

            If he finds a way to prepare properly for one GT, then it wouldn’t surprise me if he came back and won a GT or two later on in his career.

            I’m not even going to comment on his actual age – that part of people’s earlier comments is the ridiculous part.

          • I’d happily put money on Quintana never winning another GT although I’d be happy to bet on him finishing in the top 10 for a while yet. Not just because he’s already peaked but because younger, better all-round riders are taking over.

          • Surprise, I agree with you. I too think Quintana is not yet at his sell-by-date but more the victim of what turned out to be a bad choice of teams along with outlandish expectations. Remember how many predicted “Kaiser Jan” would win LeTour for many years after what turned out to be his only victory?
            I believe the Movistar squad separated into a Spanish team of “stars” and those (the South/Central Americans) who were there to serve them. I wonder if this will happen with INEOS soon with the South/Central Americans relegated to supporting roles to their British stars? Quintana was on the wrong side at Movistar but I wonder if his new squad has the strength to be of much use, even if they are 100% in support of him?

        • I would say nationality has everything to do with it. When one makes assumptions how easily or succesfully a person would be able to lie and/or fake his age. one is also making assumptions about the a state’s bureucratic system.
          I mean we all have at one point in our lives tried our hand at faking an ID – although usually the point was to makes us a year or two older – but it is far different from changing our birth year so well and so completely that when we get famous no-one will able to simply check it and reveal the truth to the whole world:-)

          • Either you made such a tacit assumption without giving it a second thought – or you just entertained youtself by idle speculation about such a possibility. In the latter case it was of course stupid of me to believe that you truly believed in it being a genuine possibility. But then I’m more used to people keeping their idle speculation to themselves. Or at least presenting it clearly as such.
            My mistake, though, all the same – and there’s nothing wrong with idle speculation.

  8. No doubt many of my comments belong to the category of comments most readers could easily do without, but your comment must surely be as pointless and as necessary as my worst ever comment:-)
    A hyperbole is a literary device and only a fool, an idiot or worse would even consider pointing out that it isn’t literally and one hundred per cent accurate or that there are in fact exceptions.
    I think we owe it to out host to keep the level in the commentary section as high as possible. I think I shall contribute towards that perhaps unattainable goal by shutting up for a month or two.

Comments are closed.