And the winners are………………….

The UCI announced today (see list below) in effect the 18 teams which will make up next season’s premier division, the World Tour. While two are still pending, one assumes they’ll be ratified in due course. The French will have the bunting out as there are now two teams in the top-tier as FDJ joins AG2R. No room at the inn for Tommy Voeckler’s Europcar but one assumes they’ll be in the races which matter to them, including next year’s Tour de France, joined probably by Saur Sojasun, Cofidis and Bretagne Schuller.

I was delighted to see that despite the “carrots cash crisis”, Euskaltel-Euskadi remain in the first division. The other team which has “lost out” is Geox but given the sponsor walked away at the last minute, it was to be expected. Rumours have abounded of the management seeking sponsors as far afield as Venezuela. If they’re successful, the team will have to settle for a place, once again, in the second division.

2012 World Tour Teams

  • AG2R La Mondiale
  • Astana Pro Team
  • BMC Racing Team
  • FDJ
  • Euskaltel – Euskadi
  • Garmin – Cervélo
  • Katusha Team
  • Lampre – ISD
  • Liquigas – Cannondale
  • Lotto Cycling Project
  • Movistar Team
  • Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team
  • Rabobank
  • Saxo Bank
  • Sky Procycling
  • Vacansoleil – DCM Pro Cycling Team

Pending:

  • GreenEdge Cycling
  • Team RadioShack – Nissan

Postscript: The pending have been ratified.

How much?

A recent article in L’Equipe looked into how much it costs to run a Pro-Tour team and how much it costs to organise a race. To illustrate the latter they used the recent Tour de L’Ain, a 2.1 UCI race whose budget of Euros 552,000 is financed as follows:-

  • 60% from the local communes, departments and regions
  • 40% from 60 private sponsors, for which the principal sponsors paid around Euros 35,000

So how was all this money spent?

  • Security: Euros 45,000 was spent on motor outriders, ambulances and police escorts. In addition, 200 police officers were provided free of charge by the region.
  • Transport for the 16 teams taking part: Euros 25,000 is the amount determined by the UCI’s sliding scale which depends on the teams’ status.
  • Accommodation for the 16 teams: Euros 75,000 for 5 day’s of half-board, in 3 starred hotels, for 12 people in each team which equates to 960 nights in total.
  • TV transmission on France 3 regional costs Euros 85,000
  • Administration costs for UCI, Anti-doping etc totals Euros 25,000
  • Prizes for the riders Euros 57,000
  • Organisational costs total Euros 120,000 split between accommodation for the organising committee, mounting and demounting the installations at the start and arrival towns.
  • Sundry costs of Euros 120,000 for the announcers, tour radio, public announce system, petrol for the cars, neutral assistance vehicles, marketing and communication etc etc

Of course, none of this would ever take place if it were not for a large and willing band of volunteers, usually from the local cycling clubs who are more than happy to lend a hand, probably in return for a couple of t-shirts. According to the organisers, they’ve managed to break even in each of the last 10 years. I know how much it costs to stage a local cyclosportive so, to my mind, these figures check out. If for any reason the organisers didn’t balance their books, then in all likelihood the principal sponsors would bail them out.

Show me the money

To illustrate how much it costs to run a team, L’Equipe had access to information from France’s only Pro-Tour team, Ag2R La Mondiale whose budget for 2011 was Euros 8.5 million, consistent with it’s ranking of around 14-15th out of the 18 teams.  This sum is provided by its principal sponsor AG2R, Kuoto who provides the bikes plus some financing, a further 12 sponsors who all provide some level of sponsoring and the team makes a further Euros 160,000 at the end of each year from the sale of bikes.

By far the biggest expense, as is the case for most sports’ teams, is salaries and associated costs which accounted for 68% of AG2R’s budget (Euros 5.78 milllion). This percentage is lower at AG2R than at other teams because they don’t have a roster of really big names, their principal riders being Nico Roche, John Gadret, Jean Christophe Peraud and Christophe Riblon. Two-thirds of this (Euros 3.853million) goes to the 27 riders and the remainder is spent on the 23 support staff. The range of gross monthly salaries varies from Euros 3,000 to Euros 35,000 per month making their highest paid rider (before image rights and bonuses) on Euros 420,000 pa. The salary of the 5th highest paid rider (ie it excludes those named above)  is Euros 180,000 pa. One should not forget that being a French team, with largely French riders, carries a heavy price tag in terms of social costs. Hence a lot of multi-national teams are based in countries such as Switzerland and Luxembourg where, unless the riders are based there, they’re generally paid gross and are responsible for making their own contributions.

After salary related costs, the next biggest expense relates to taking part in competitions. Costs here amount to some Euros 1.275 million, (15% of the budget) of which Euros 750,000 cover transport, around Euros 550,000 of which are covered by the race organisers, leaving the team to pick up Euros 200,000. The remainder is spent largely on training camps and food during the races.

General costs of some Euros 850,00 of which Euros 270,000 covers membership of UCI, French Federation, licences, AIGCP, participation in the bio-passport. The rest is spent on consultancy fees for physiotherapists amongst others, costs of running the office, rent. It costs Euros 450,000 to lease and run the vehicles and the remaining 1.7% covers sundry costs such as telephone bills.

Again, having spent some time looking at the costs of running a Continental pro-team, this summation rings very true. So, when you see figures of Euros 20 million being bandied around for the cost of BMC bear in mind that most of the difference between their budget and that of AG2R’s is salary related. Messrs Evans, Gilbert and Hushovd don’t come cheap.

In fact, the article in L’Equipe goes on to focus on salaries in cycling and how they compare to other sports. The average annual salaries of French riders are as follows:-

  • Pro-tour team Euros 122, 512
  • Continental pro team Euros 87,838
  • Continental team  Euros 22,243

Please note this refers only to French riders on French teams, so would exclude Sylvain Chavanel riding for Quickstep or Amael Moinard at BMC. The average salary for a French rider compares favourably with average salaries for rugby and basketball players, and is considerably higher than for those playing handball and volleyball in France. Wisely, the article excludes any comparison with the average salary of a football player in France who, if memory serves me correctly, earns in a week what a cyclist will earn in a month.

Finally, L’Equipe turns its attention to the 30 highest paid riders in the sport in 2011. It groups them in bands rather than giving exact figures and I would say that it’s a not unreasonable assessment. However, I think there may be a couple of errors in their figures and two notable omissions. Unsurprisingly, the man on the highest salary, which is estimated as between Euros 4-5 million pa, is Alberto “November can’t come quick enough” Contador. On around Euros 3 million pa are PhilGil and Cadel Evans. On just under Euros 2 million are Messrs Schleck Jr, Cancellara and Boonen. The first Frenchmen appear in the category “above Euros 500,000 but below Euros 1 million” and they are, unsurprisingly Messrs Chavanel, Voeckler and Fedrigo. However, with a large number of names in this list having had a stellar season and who are moving teams at the end of this season, it’ll be out of date all too soon.

Garibaldi’s Giro VII

It’s perhaps only fitting that on the Giro’s rest day I quickly reflect on the 3 day festival of pain and suffering the riders have just endured. Frankly, it was pretty exhausting just watching, let alone riding: long days in the saddle, lots and lots of tough climbs and dramatically different climatic conditions from start to finish. Despite some spirited opposition, Contador has a lock on the maglia rosa which only TAS can retrospectively wrest from his grasp. However, the other two podium places are still up for grabs and will be hotly contested in the coming days starting in tomorrow’s uphill time-trial.

Contador’s not the only Spaniard, or should that be Spanish speaker, with a smile on his face. Together for 17 years, 5 participations in the Giro and no wins summed up Euskaltel-Euskadi’s record before Anton’s ascent of the Zoncolan. Mind you, only a very small rider was going to be able to squeeze through those crowds. The place was positively heaving. Of course, it might easily have been Rujano, who is showing signs of a return to his 2005 form, but he was fatigued after his (gifted) win on stage 13. Fortunately, he had recovered sufficiently by Sunday to repay the favour and give Alberto a bit of a helping hand. Then, just like buses, along comes another win for Euskaltel with Mikel Nieve in the queen stage (15) atop Val di Fassa. Oh, weren’t they the team that shared the work load with Saxobank on Friday? What goes around, comes around.

Honourable mentions, IMHO, should also go to:-

  • Stefano Garzelli who won the Cima Coppi (first over highest point) and a shed load of mountain points.
  • Johnny Hoogerland for another of his seemingly fruitless, but nonetheless entertaining, solo escapes.
  • Robert Kiserlovski for grinning and baring broken teeth to follow Martinelli’s orders, to the letter.
  • John Gadret, the best placed Frenchman, in 4th place.
  • Michele Scarponi for daring to attack.
  • Vicenzo Nibali for his virtuoso, dare-devil descending.

Finally, I was saddened to learn of Xavier Tondo’s demise in what’s been reported as a bizarre accident with his garage door. My condolences to his family, friends and team mates.

Garibaldi’s Giro VI

Unfortunately, due to more pressing commitments, I’ve only caught bits of the last few day’s of the Giro. Even worse, I have fallen asleep during transmission of the Tour of California. Why is it that when I watch transmission of the former I am entranced by the countryside, the honeyed stone-walled towns, the sense of history, the wide swathes of sandy coastline while in the latter I wonder why anyone would want to visit, let alone live there? I’m thinking, there’s a lesson to be learnt here. One of the aims of any Tour is to promote the region in which it’s taking place. The Americans haven’t quite got to grips with the concept. Of course, they’ve not been helped by the weather.  Meanwhile, over in the Giro, and in stark contrast to last year, the weather has been fabulous. Those pallid, concave,  pigeon chests are rapidly getting as tanned as their arms and legs.

The last couple of day’s has seen heroic French efforts sandwiched by two Cavendish wins. These wins were not without controversy as the winner allegedly had an assisted ride up Mount Etna on Sunday, thereby avoiding the cut.  Cavendish has hotly denied the accusations but my friends in the peloton tell me that not only does Cavendish get a ride from the team car but he’s often pushed over  hills by his team mates. No wonder he thanks them profusely after every win.  As we bade a fondish farewell to the sprinters, particularly Ale-jet, who are speedily exiting the Giro before the really big climbs, let’s return to the French.

Christophe Le Mevel (Garvelo) tried to seize the opportunity and the pink jersey yesterday. His team had been assured that Bert wasn’t fussed about defending it and decided to give it a go. Personally, I was willing Christophe into pink but had to leave before the end of the stage for my English class. It was only on my return I learnt that he’d sadly been unsuccessful. While SaxoBank would have been happy to let the jersey go, other teams wanted to preserve the position on GC of their riders and took up the chase. Thanks to a split in the peloton, Christophe lost time and dropped a place on GC. However, it was great to see him try. Too many riders ride just to defend their position, not to better it. Chapeau Christophe.

The win instead went to a diminutive grimpeur (another one who’ll never belong to that select sub-set who weigh more than me) John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) who has a definite empathy with the climbs of the Giro and, with his bald head, a more than passing resemblance to Pantani. Fittingly, he dedicated his win to the late Wouter Weylandt, who’s funeral was held yesterday.

As tomorrow’s stage heads into Austria, can I suggest that the teams’ chefs prepare the boys a spot of post-race Kaiser’schmarrn which has to be one of the best things to eat after significant exertion. This dish is made from a rich pancake batter where the egg whites are whipped and folded into the batter to lighten it before cooking it in a frying pan. Once cooked it is shredded, sprinkled with icing sugar (and in my case, rum-soaked raisins) and served  with a fruit compote, generally apple or plum – enjoy.

Dig in, it's delish

Out the loop

I was only in London for a few days but, away from all that is dear and familiar, I felt really out of the loop on my return. Races had finished without me knowing who had won and, even worse, races had started and finished without me knowing the victor. Of course, I could have checked on the internet but I was trapped in the wedding bubble and couldn’t break free of the programme. There’s little if nothing in the UK newspapers on cycling, although, as the wedding coincided with the World Cup races in Manchester, there was some mention of Britain’s track superstars.

I’ve been so busy catching up that I’ve had little time to reflect on the past few days of racing. However, one thing is clear, the promising young guns of the past few years are starting to emerge more strongly. Witness Gesinks’s (Rabobank) win in the Tour of Oman, a hilly parcours than last year, intended as a counterpoint to the earlier sprinters’ fest in Qatar.  Joining him on the podium were Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli).

Over the weekend the Tour Cycliste International du Haut Var, with a title almost as long as the race itself, was won by perennial French housewives favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), second was Julien Antomarchi of VC-La Pomme Marseille and, another former yellow jersey wearer, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) was third.

Further south in the Volta ao Algave, Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) took the final day’s time-trial and the GC ahead of Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil). The defending champion Alberto Contador (SaxoBank Sungard), in his first race back since his suspension,  faded into fourth place on the final day.

This week it’s the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol which kicked off with a 6.8km prologue around Benahavis won by Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun. Jonathon Hivert (Saur) won Stage 2’s 161.8km print into Adra while Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) won Stage 3’s sprint into Jaen. Markel Irizar (RadioShack) leads on GC from Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharam-Lotto) and Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack).

Over in Italy at the Trofeo Laigueglia, Daniele Pietropoli (Lampre-ISD) beat off Simone Ponzi (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Angel Vicioso (Androni Giocattoli) in a sprint for the line. The Giro di Sardegna got underway this week and in yesterday’s 138km first stage from Olbia to Porto Cervo, Peter Sagan proved too strong on the uphill finish for Allessandro Ballan (BMC) and his Liquigas teammate, Daniel Oss. Sadly, very little of this afore-mentioned action has been televised.

I haven’t even glanced at what’s been happening in the Tour of South Africa and Vuelta Independencia Nacional. A girl’s got to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Meanwhile, I will be looking forward to this week end’s Belgian semi-classics: Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Don’t look

My beloved has departed for the US and I finally have some free time. When I say “free”, I mean free from looking after him. To illustrate my point, this morning I found, on the laundry floor, the shirt he’d worn yesterday for a 2 hour  business meeting. Obviously, this wasn’t all he wore yesterday. Now you understand why I’m constantly battling a mountain of ironing

Sunday’s pointage at Aspremont was run under similar climatic conditions to the last two Sundays: damp and overcast. Which is a bit of a shame as you can’t enjoy the spectacular views over Nice that this route normally affords. Although it did allow me to check on the progress of a couple of newly built, rather magnificent properties.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Aspremont as it was the location of my first ever pointage with the club. This is the second one of the season which we ascend by way of Pessicart. Obviously, we’re the only club to chose this route. I say that because no one overtook me, once I’d been dropped by my clubmates. The other clubs had chosen to ascend either via Falicon or Castagniers.

By the time I arrived at the pointage, just before 10 o’clock, my team mates had already supped and left. I have to say, it was pretty poor fare at the pointage: remnants of a madeira cake, slices of salami and very wrinkly prunes. Definitely a case of “could do better.” No toques to be awarded here. I left promptly and descended via Castagniers passing Christophe Le Mevel coming in the other direction. Obviously, no lasting effects from his fall last week which caused him to abandon the Tour of the Med.

My hasty retreat enabled me to get back home and prepare a quick pasta lunch for my beloved so we could drive to Toulon and atop Mont Faron before the riders arrived on the ultimate stage of the Tour of the Med. Sadly our GPS system tried in vain to get us to the top of Mont Faron by a non-existent route. We eventually found the correct road, but not before it was closed to traffic. Cue park car and walk.

This was my maiden ascension of Mont Faron. Given the narrowness of the road and the lack of barriers along its sheer drops, I was grateful for the grey mist which obscured the view, although I could see the outline of Toulon spread out before me. It looks like a French version of Portsmouth. As we walked I handed out the flyers for the Kivilev: never one to waste any opportunity.

We found a great spot to view the race’s progress and my beloved would have had some superb photos if he had remembered to replace his memory card! Nonetheless, it’s always interesting witnessing the riders’ pain at close quarters. The ascent is tricky. I’ve mentioned that it’s narrow. In addition, the surface is in poor condition and it winds round and round in rapidly undulating gradients, some of which are rather steep.

As Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R) passed, you could tell he was “on the rivet”. He was closely followed by David Moncoutie (Cofidis) who was looking much more at ease and in control. His experience of this particular hill showed. He knew when, how and where to measure his effort.

The peloton shattered about 4km from the top under the various attacks. Riders who were handily placed on GC behind Romain Feillu, and who you might have expected to finish well up the order, with the exception of Thomas Voeckler, were suffering. So the three who finished atop Mont Faron also finished atop the podium: Moncoutie, Peraud and Poels (Vacansoleil).  

Descending was equally dangerous, as the riders sped back down to get to their buses. I didn’t fear the professionals, just the amateurs trying (in vain) to stay on their wheels. While I would like to ride up Mont Faron, descending on such narrow roads without the benefit of a barrier might be too much. I would probably have to take the cable car (hands over eyes) back down. The Mont is also crisscrossed with eye-wateringly steep mountain bike trails: again, only for the brave and skilful.

Boonen’s back

Today, having safely delivered my beloved to the airport, I raced back home to get on with Monday’s usual pile of administration for both our company and the cycling club. The day started off a little damp and humid but the sun soon burnt through the cloud. I was very tempted to go for a ride but today’s a rest day and the outlook is for more of the same.

At 13h, I was able to check out the action in the Tour of Qatar, and continue working, thanks to the big screen in the office. Lars Boom surprised everyone by winning yesterday’s 2km prologue, 4 seconds ahead of Cancellara. All those kilometers on the cyclo-cross tracks this winter bearing early fruit. However, he was indisposed with a tummy upset today,  finishing well down and out of the gold leader’s jersey.

Today’s 145km stage finished on the Al Khor Corniche and was contested by an 18-man break away group, containing a number of sprinters, who had worked well together on the windy, sandswept roads to maintain their advantage over a splintered peloton. Actually, that’s not strictly true, it was more of a one-man show. Quickstep’s Tom Boonen took a  flier into the headwind and powered across the finish line to record his 18th stage win in the event, catching everyone else by surprise. He also took over the leader’s jersey.

Over in Mallorca, the UCI’s attempts to ban race radios fell on deaf ears. Tyler Farrar won the stage but it won’t count as UCI officials had walked off the job. Also, this week end, Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) won the GP Costa degli Etruschi while Antony Ravard (AG2R-La Mondiale) wrapped up his first stage race win in the Etoile de Besseges. It’s worth noting that Johnny Hoogerland was 3rd, Jerome Coppel 5th and Arthur Vichot (2010’s viral star of the Tour Down Under) finished 9th. These boys will probably be riding the Tour of the Med, the final stages of which I’ll be watching this week end.

Mudbath

After this morning’s ride, I settled down on the sofa, in my jimjams (what else?) to watch the French Cyclo-Cross Championships in Lanavily, Brittany. I had more than a passing interest, as one of our youngsters was taking part. His younger brother, who has swept all before him in the region, is a better rider but, sadly for us, and him, they don’t have a championship for his age category (minimes). Anyway, his older brother, despite an upset stomach managed to finish. He wasn’t lapped, but his final position didn’t do him justice.

French television kindly gave us a preview of the 2,500m course which to my untutored eyes looked tough.  It featured some very steep ascents and descents (18%), plenty of muddy, rutted tracks, wooded trails, obstacles and a wee bit of frosty road. As I understand it, the key to cyclo-cross is the start. You need to get out in front and stay there, avoiding any mechanicals. 

FDJ had the benefit of numbers in today’s race: Francis Mouray (defending champion), Steve Chainel, Arnold Jeannesson and Sandy Casar. Competition was likely to come from John Gadret of AG2R, a former champion and the best placed Frenchman in last year’s Tour and Giro. I spotted a couple of other French Pro-Tour riders in the mix, but they were unlikely to trouble the main protagonists.

It’s amazing just how quickly the better riders manage to distance the rest. Of course, the boys make riding through mud look easy. It isn’t. I once made the mistake of riding my road bike over some firmish turf, not boglike mud. I was off in a trice.

The competitors have to maintain concentration at all times as they traverse the different surfaces, dismounting and re-mounting after clearing the obstacles. You can see the intent focus on their mud-splattered faces. 

The cameras naturally rest with the leaders. You only see the other competitors as they’re lapped. Mouray quickly established a lead, while, his nearest competitors ganged up. Possibly,  the better to maintain motivation or to mark the non-FDJ competition.  Gadret rode with Jeannesson and Chainel with Blazin. All during the race, you could hear the dulcet tones of Mr Cycling (Daniel Mageas) in the background.

It’s interesting to watch how they approach the trickier sections. Riding is always preferable to running, even up some of the steeper ascents, although it can’t be avoided when overcoming the obstacles. On the steeper descents, the outside leg is often out of the cleat to help steady the rider.

As I was watching, two things occurred to me:-

  •  AG2R’s brown cycling shorts are ideal for cyclo-cross.
  • It must be difficult getting the mud stains out of the predominantly white kit of FDJ. I wonder what detergent they use?

Mouray high-fived his father in the finishing straight and took his 6th title. Gadret was some 68 seconds behind and Jeannesson was third, a further 15 seconds back. While it’s fun watching from the sofa, I’m sure it would be even better live.

Week one review

What a fabulous first week! Take a bow ASO. We’ve had confusion and controversy, thrills and spills, cobble calamity, tears and tantrums, rain, heatwaves, picturesque countryside, beautiful châteaux, fervent fans, the favourites are all still in contention and we’ve only just reached the first really lumpy bits.

As anticipated, Spartacus (Saxo Bank) won the 8.9km Prologue course around Rotterdam where, despite the rain, thousands of fans lined the course.  Sadly, both Mathias Frank (BMC) and Manuel Cardoso (Footon Servetto) fell heavily – Tour over for both of them.

Wind didn’t play a part in Stage 1, 223.5km from Rotterdam to Brussels, but the peloton was very skittish. In the run in, the last sharp right turn took out Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), among others, while two further crashes saw a large number of riders hitting the deck. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) avoided the carnage and was first across the line.  Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia)  bowed out.

Stage 2’s 201km stage from Brussels to Spa mirrored an Ardennes Classic but rain and diesel-slicked roads saw riders falling like nine pins, particularly on the descent from the Stockeu. Injuries to Michel Delage (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) put an early end to their participation. Meanwhile, Fabulous Fabian, still in yellow, cooled the tempo in the leading bunch to allow the contenders (particularly one Andy Schleck) to get back onto the peloton which then rode together to the neutralised finish. Up front, Sylvain Chavanel, having helped team mate Jerome Pineau to seize the spotty jersey, had pedaled away from the rest of the breakaway bunch for the stage win, snatching yellow from Fab’s broad shoulders. These two have  rescued Quick Step’s dismal season and are now well poised to negotiate contract extensions.

It was anticipated that some of the favourites might come a cropper on the cobbled sections on Stage 3’s 213km from Wanze to Arenburg. It was a truly spectacular stage, hot and dusty, reminiscent of when Stuart O’Grady won Paris-Roubaix in 2007. The first crash of the day took out David Le Lay (Ag2R – La Mondiale) while falls yesterday for Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) left both nursing hairline fractures of the wrist: pretty painful on the pave. Nikki Terpstra (Milram) was a non starter with the flu.

Frank Schleck’s fall (collar bone broken in three places) precipitated splits in the peloton. The smart guys were on Fabian’s wheel and got a tow to the finish. The stage was won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team), fitting given that he’d forfeited sprint points the previous day at the behest of one Fabian Cancellara. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) worked with the guys from Sky to bridge up to the group behind Cancellara and minimise the time lost by Alberto Contador (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins Team Sky). Lance (Radioshack) had been in this second group but an untimely puncture saw him surrender time to a number of the other contenders. End result, Cancellara was back in yellow and the World Champion, Cadel Evans (BMC) was now up in third place, 1min and 1 second ahead of Alberto Contador.   

The contenders must have breathed a sigh of relief, the first obstacles had been conquered and they could keep their powder dry for the next few sprinter friendly days. Stage 4’s 153kms from Cambrai to champagne producing Reims, saw Alessandro Petacchi record his 2nd stage win of this Tour. Next up, 187.5km from Epernay to Montargis saw Mark Cavendish win  by a mile. Queue floods of tears as the monkey was now off his back. A bit like buses, stage win no 2 followed on the morrow, on the longest stage, 227.5km from Montargis to Gueugnon. Meanwhile an altercation with a musette saw Amets Txurruka (Euskatel-Euskadi) bid farewell to the peloton. A couple of small girl’s blouses traded blows and bike wheels. The judges awarded a points decision to Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) over Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne). Both were fined. 

Let’s just pause and put in context my own endeavours: 550km and 27hours in the saddle. Spartacus, still in yellow, has taken 93minutes longer to complete 1,215km. The conclusion: I’d have missed the cut-off on Stage 1 and joined the non-walking wounded!  Today the boys hit the Jura and a rejuvenated Chavanel, who I feel has usurped Michael Boogerd and Mikel Astarloza to become “The Teeth of the Tour”, recorded his second stage win and again seized yellow. This is going to cost Patrick Lefevre dear.

Cadel Evans has moved into second place  so we could see him in yellow as early as tomorrow. I’m sure it would suit Astana to have BMC working their butts off to defend the yellow jersey.

Don’t call us

The teams for the Giro were announced today by RCS Sport and, as a result, there’s bound to be a few long-faced team managers and sponsors. Here’s the list of  successful applicants, 15 Pro-Tour teams and 7 wild cards:-

AG2R-La Mondiale
Astana
Caisse d’Epargne
Footon-Servetto
Garmin-Transitions
HTC-Columbia
Katusha
Lampre Farnese Vini
Liquigas-Doimo
Milram
Omega Pharma-Lotto
Quick Step
Rabobank
Saxo Bank
Team Sky

Wild Cards

Acqua & Sapone
Androni-Diquigiovanni
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
BMC Racing
Cervelo
Cofidis-Le Credit en Ligne
Colnago-CSF Inox

The selection is pretty self-explanatory. Either you’re a team covered by the September 2008 agreement, a new, too big to ignore, Pro-Tour team, or your recent (and past) results justify your inclusion.

Probably of more note are the obvious omissions from the Pro-Tour ranks such as Radioshack, FDJ and Euskatel Euskadi. The Shack have given, not unnaturally, precedence to the Tour of California, are not covered by the September agreement with the Pro-Tour teams and, apparently, eschewed an invite. While the other two are covered by the agreement, one has to assume they too didn’t seek  invitations. However, I’m surprised to see Footon-Servetto on the list given that they didn’t receive invites to either Milan-San Remo or Tirreno-Adriatico.

Let’s now look at those Continental-Pro teams which didn’t get an invite. First up, the two Dutch squads, Skil Shimano and Vacansoleil; after all the Giro is starting in Amsterdam on 8 May. Neither team has any Italians in their squad and, while Vacansoleil livened up last year’s Vuelta, Skil (apart from Kenny Van Hummel) were damp squibs at the Tour.

A number of Italian Pro-Continental teams haven’t received an invite. Riccardo Ricco’s presence on team Ceramica Flaminia  presumably scuppered their chances; Carminooro-NGC have only just upgraded from Continental; while, ISD Neri and De Rosa-Stac Plastic haven’t posted much in the way of results. Maybe, next year…………………………….