B&B Team in Big Bother

Ordinarily getting a wildcard invitation for the Tour de France should be something to celebrate for the B&B Hotels team but the news this week points to a real problem for the team. Their invitation to the Tour is debatable today, and their problem is that with time there will be less argument as Uno-X overhaul them.

B&B got picked for the Tour because they were French. If the team rode under a Belgian or German flag and had a lot of Belgians or Germans it probably wouldn’t get a wildcard, no more than, say, Bingoals-Pauwels Sauces or Human Powered Health. There’s a degree of préférence nationale here but it’s rational, the roadside audience is largely French and people want to see their locals in action so everything else being equal among all the second tier teams they qualify. Yet with Groupama-FDJ, Ag2r Citroën, Cofidis, Arkéa-Samsic and Total Energies already starting beaucoup bases are covered. There are more teams from France than any other country, adding a sixth has to have diminishing returns. Even within France, B&B market their Breton identity… but this is also something cherished by Arkéa-Samsic.

The B&B team has plenty to like. It’s actually a cycling club, you can join and wear the jersey too, neither unique nor original but still worthy and inclusive. It’s got its own VIP truck as well which attends many races making B&B pretty good at B2B. The sea green jerseys, le glaz, is part of the team’s identity so if the sponsors change, the jersey can always spotted, plus the kit is made locally. For a small budget there are some interesting signings and stories to tell, MTB rider Victor Koretzky is one to watch. Luca Mozzato’s a handy sprinter on the up. 19 year old Raphael Parisella’s got a big engine, the same for German TT specialist Miguel Heidemann. Signing longshots who could improve in the coming years is one thing, a noble vocation even and also a practical Moneyball approach for a team with a small budget. So far, so great but being nice won’t guarantee you a start in the Tour de France.

Uno-X have overtaken B&B on the rankings and likely to pull ahead when you compare their rosters. It’s here the problems begin to stack up. There’s the whole relegation/promotion battle going on and the short version of this is that barring a miracle, B&B won’t finish the season as one of the best two UCI Pro Teams and with this, qualify for the Tour de France next year (especially because any relegated World Tour teams count for a Pro Team when the numbers are added). Which means there are likely to be two wildcards left for the 2023 Tour de France and Total Energies with Peter Sagan and Pierre Latour is presumably in pole position already, leaving one place.

How to get the golden ticket? B&B could try and sign a superstar but they don’t have much budget, it’s actually shrunk since Vital Concept left after 2020; plus even if they could waive wedges of Euros at a rider, would they sign knowing the team’s race programme in July might be the Tour of Austria or Quinghai Lake? Possibly an older rider on a big “sunset” contract might say yes, but not for someone in peak years. Would a second sponsor come on board knowing the team’s qualification for the Tour is at risk? It’s a Catch-22 scenario. Also B&B will face competition from Uno-X for the remaining place, but also from Euskaltel-Euskadi because of the Basque grand départ next year and having a local team and a second Spanish team might appeal to ASO, especially as E-E can flood the early breakaway as well as B&B. And if B&B are not selected, their sponsors are going to fret, then recruiting and investing for the longer term gets harder, a negative circle.

The way to break this spiral is for the team to win and score big, to make themselves the logical choice ahead of Uno-X and Euskaltel-Euskadi. Easy to type, hard to do and it’s not been for the want of trying, the team’s now in its fifth season and hasn’t won a World Tour race yet so landing a Tour stage is a terrifying ask.

All this applies to B&B, but the same holds for teams in Italy and Spain alike whose existence is similarly predicated on riding their home grand tour for sponsor exposure. In the coming days – because the announcement is overdue with the Giro just 12 weeks away – Drone Hopper-Androni or Bardiani-CSF risk being disappointed by RCS, although if this depends on whether Arkéa-Samsic opt to ride. If not this year then next and beyond it’s a recurring, in-built problem. Likewise in Spain for the Vuelta where Burgos-BH, Caja Rural, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Kern Pharma four teams playing musical chairs in a game with two or three seats.

B&B win the wildcard but aren’t a must-have pick, and Uno-X keep racking up the wins in style. Quantitatively we can rank the teams too and B&B have been overtaken by Uno-X. If this continues then B&B are in real trouble because if they’re no longer selected for the Tour the sponsors may not hang around. So they can celebrate the invite this week but the worries are adding up. The same applies to other Pro Teams in Italy and Spain.

In the end the sport is moving towards a hierarchical system for qualification to grand tours, almost a franchise system with teams, as long as they can sustain sponsorship, locked into grand tour participation, which in turn helps secure sponsorship. As Uno-X might show it could be possible to crack this but it’ll require a long term project.

33 thoughts on “B&B Team in Big Bother”

  1. While I might be biased about the team Uno-x, I think it’s ok they won’t be riding TdF. It’s almost always a boring race anyways, why put an offensive team in there? (No not that type of offensive like Astana,UAE and Dick-nick or whatever they are called this year, the other kind). Let them go to the Giro and Vuelta, races that allow racing, not national masturbation as a monumental necessarity.

    • Arguably the Giro and Vuelta face the national questions even more starkly. There’s only one Spanish World Team so the Vuelta needs to invite others; there are no World Tour teams so the Giro is almost obliged to invite on the basis of nationality. Which could give a strong Pro Team a route here but for the Tour de France waving a French flag won’t work for long.

      • That’s also true historically: the Tour has always been less parochial and more open to other nationalities that the other GTs. They’ve also been willing to bend the rules, sometimes to favor French riders, sometimes to favor others over French riders. IMO this, more than its seniority, has made the Tour the biggest bike race in the world (whether we like it or not).

    • Surely, if one finds the TdF dull, you want an offensive team in there? Personally, I generally favour the local teams, but in this case Uno-X are so much better to watch than B&B that I’d rather they’d been chosen.

      Still trying to work out which team Dick-nick are…?

      • Not you specifically, but the general reaction to the recent ‘UCI points and rankings table’ post was negative and mostly in favour of the wildcard system for GTs, even when national bias was considered?

        • I was, indeed, one of those people. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to complain about the wildcards the race organisers do pick, though. ;o)

          • A temporary, close-season tribute to the King impersonators in the British bars on Tenerife after IR’s Mount Teide visit.
            I used to go there regularly from the early 90s and the Elvis acts were on then and are still going strong.
            They ranged from the truly terrible, the comedic, to the excellent.
            The best one I saw musically was an Oriental guy, what he lacked aesthetically, he made up for on the microphone.

  2. Presumably B&B Hotels know this too, so hopefully they will attempt to put on a bit of a show this year and persuade ASO that it’s worth picking the 24th ranked team rather than the 23rd.

  3. Years ago I interviewed the sponsorship director at CSC. She mentioned how frustrating not knowing a tour invite has on all their planning.

    Wildcard used to mean something. Remember 7-eleven was a wildcard. Or Cipo not getting invited in the end.

    But the French are going to pick French teams and sponsors.

  4. Haha, J Evans I think Anand is talking about Quickstep. Interesting description, not sure I’m seeing the same thing he sees when watching TdF or any other pro race for that matter

  5. I’ve been watching (and enjoying) the early season races, and one thing that has struck me is that the teams that most need points this year mostly seem to be going all-in for wins and not riding conservatively at all. Maybe it’s just because it’s early and they correctly judge that they can steal a march on the bigger, “safe” WT teams, and perhaps these teams on the bubble will get conservative later in the season, but so far the points system seems to be having the opposite effect that many people here seemed to fear.

  6. Franck Bonnamour had an outstanding season (relatively) for B&B in 2021. Maybe he regrets leaving Arkea-Samsic now, or did he need the freedom at B&B to have that outstanding season?

    I’m a supporter of French cycling but in this case it’s hardly obvious that B&B merits a TdF place. The roster looks very thin with some once-decent but ageing riders (Rolland, Gautier…) and a handful of younger riders who might progess, yet all the French teams are looking for the next local star but who certainly wouldn’t go to B&B if AG2R, DDG, Arkea, Total or Cofidis were to make an offer. Difficult.

    • Bonnamour had a solid season and was strong in the Tour, he’s gone a long way to helping B&B with the invite because of his combativity prize won last year. Part of it is down to changing teams, his mother works for the Arkéa team and leaving his comfort zone seems to have shaken things up for the better.

      • Good point, IR. Getting away from the fraternal atmosphere that characterizes so many French teams can help. I always assumed that most French teams had left that behind, but it appears not be so, especially if you look a the team rosters of French teams.
        “his mother works for the Arkéa team and leaving his comfort zone seems to have shaken things up for the better.”

    • I think in the match between Uno-X and B&B, the latter won because of their showing in the Tour last year. Bonnamour made headlines, Rolland did well and the team overall animated the race more than I expected.

      I think it may have been ASO’s way of saying that your attitude in the race would be remembered for the next year’s wildcards, and I base that on absolutely nothing.
      They have their work cut out for them if they want an invite next time.

    • They also signed Alexis Gougeard, a very very popular rider in France, and always putting on a show. He has already started cloking the kms up front during this WE Tour de la Provence, quite an impressive day out on the bike this early in the season. You can rest assured he’ll try doing the same this summer, this may be another reason why they feature in the big yellow circus.

  7. As always the annual selection for the wildcards in TDF is up for debate, and not least what consequences it may cause for the selected as well as for the unselected.

    But what I find most intriguing in this story is how incredibly well UNO-X has been doing in their time of existence. They are after all a fairly new squad and not from the start a creation of wealth. And they seems to have been building very steadily over the years.

    Originally founded in 2008 as Team Ringriks-Kraft with 5 riders only they changed name in 2017 to UNO-X.
    Up until 2019 they were an all Norwegian development team and rode as a Conti Team. In 2020 they signed several u23 Danish riders plus one single former Norwegian World Tour rider and also changed status to Pro team, while at the same time upholding a development team. In 2021 they signed two more Norwegians with WT experience and this year they have signed three Danes from WT, most noticeably Lasse Normann Andersen, World and Olympic champion in madison. In their staff they have Kurt-Asle Arvesen former CSC and Sky pro as sports director.

    The sponsor behind it all is a Norwegian family business called Reitan. They run several businesses, among them a big supermarket chain in Norway and Denmark and so also UNO-X, a petrol company with gas stations.

    I don’t know the budget behind the team but even though the family behind belongs to Norway’s wealthiest I assume it’s fairly moderate. Most of all the story behind seems to be one of a slow,steady and successful progression, with a solid foundation in Norway and lately also some Danish contributions. So for they have two Critérium du Dauphiné wins, several other WT wins and delivered 6 riders to WT teams.
    So I guess it is just a matter of time before we see UNO-X in Tour de France. And they will be easy to spot.

    • Reittangruppen had a 2019 turnover of $10.7 billion, so probably not that moderate really. While it’s turnover is a seventh of Ineos, they’re also not trying to fund a Formula 1 team, and America’s Cup team and New Zealand Rugby all at the same time, so there’s probably a fair bit of financial fire power there that could compete with the better funded WT teams, albeit (I suspect) moderated by a more tempered approach.

  8. As a follow-up to the piece, Arkéa-Samsic have to tell RCS this week whether they’ll take up the right to ride the Giro d’Italia according to today’s L’Equipe; which in turn means RCS can award the remaining wildcards.

    • And, according to Cyclism’Actu, they are declining the Giro. A sensible solution given their strength where they could select two decent stage-winning teams (Quintana & Barguil for the mountains and Bouhanni for the sprints) but not a third, or, if they tried, it would be yet another bunch of no-hopers getting in the daily breakaway.

      • Makes sense, I was going to add a paragraph to the comment saying “my guess is they won’t do the Giro”, as they want a strong Tour team and they can score UCI points outside of the Giro in May in French events, probably better than can do anything in the Giro.

  9. Only that le Grand Depart this year is in Denmark, where Uno-X has business and riders.
    It seems reasonable for ASO to build relations with leading firms in cycle sponsorship, since there are so few at the top level. There must have been a high level discussion about whether it is acceptable to snub one of them in their own country.
    And I put Uno-X as one of my riders to watch, along with Vingegaard, another Dane. Yes, I’d be giving the wildcard to Uno-X and taking my sports promotion company towards new money.

    • Possibly but more likely it means RCS don’t have to choose between Bardiani and Drone Hopper, they can now invite both which means three Italian teams in the race as Eolo-Kometa are surely certain. Eolo sponsors RCS races and a stage of the Giro is going to start outside one of Kometa’s pork processing factories. Wildcards for Sanremo have gone out and these three got them, plus… Gazprom-Rusvelo.

      • Surely all the more reason to invite Uno-X ? After all, Savio’s remarks in the past have burned them before…kind of.

        I really don’t get the Gazprom thing. Last time I can remember them being relevant was a mightly suspect showing in an uphill TT 6 years ago?

        Besides, with Charmig and the Johannessen’s riding in their current state I can see them animating a race with much more veracity than any of the aforementioned teams.

        • If you’re looking for sporting relevancy as the reason for Gazprom’s continuing selection to RCS races then you’re looking in the wrong place, obviously. Especially after seeing Inrng’s repeated comment about Eolo.

          • Yes understood, but to be fair Eolo won a stage last year!

            Wouldn’t Arkea have a better shot performing against the giro or vuelta lineup vs another squad’s tour squad?

Comments are closed.