20 March: T-day

 

Christian Prudhomme has said that he will advise on the 22 teams to be invited to the Tour de France on 20 March, so that’s 35 days left for the rest to impress. The sixteen with an invite are those remaining teams which were Pro-tour back in September 2008: namely, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, BBox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Omega-Pharma Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, Lampre-NGC, Astana, Saxo Bank, HTC-Columbia, Caisse d’Epargne, Euskaltel Euskadi, Milram and Footon-Servetto.

Parcours 2010

ASO, in making their selection, will be mindful of the rising popularity of cycling in countries such as USA, UK, Australia and Russia with their potential for increased TV revenues. However, they also need teams who are grateful for their inclusion and understand that it is their role to animate the race by sending riders up the road most days. A slot that in previous years has been filled by Barloworld, Agritubel and Skil Shimano. Given that there are a number of teams who will be looking for new sponsors (Milram, Saxo Bank, Caisse d’Epargne, Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and hence riders looking for new teams, this may be less of a concern for ASO this year.

Of the remaining 6 slots, I think it’s safe to assume that 4 will go to the Pro-Tour teams of Katusha, Sky, Radioshack and Garmin Transitions. This leaves two berths for Cervelo, BMC, Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and Saur-Sojasun. Prudhomme was quoted as saying he’d like to see 25 teams but that would probably mean reducing the team size to 8, a move which is unlikely to be popular with those already clutching an invite.

Since Cervelo have a former Tour winner (Sastre), last year’s green jersey (Hushovd) and generous sponsors, you would have to reckon on them getting a slot. BMC, managed by well-connected to ASO John Lelangue,  includes the holder of the rainbow jersey and a man who’s finished 2nd twice (Evans) may well get the nod over the other three teams. However, Vacansoleil have done their case no harm by winning the Tour of Qatar (an ASO event) with Wouter Mol.

Postscript: Apologies from Mr Prudhomme who’s still not made up hs mind which of the 12 teams in waiting will get the final 6 Tour invites. Is he trying to prolong the agony in the manner of all reality TV shows? Or is he hoping for a bigger cheque in the post? Just pick the names out of a hat and put everyone out of their misery.

A good return on investment

Last week Stéphane Goubert of AG2R – La Mondiale hung up his cleats after 16 years, and 400,000km, as a professional rider. Now a few of you may be trying to put a face to that name. So here’s his picture.

Stephane Goubert
Stephane Goubert

I only mention him because he typifies the hardworking riders in the peloton. To be honest, even I would be hard pressed to identify him out of cycling gear or even recall his palmares.

L’Equipe wrote a short piece,  on the eve of his last race, Paris-Bourges, calling him “l’homme sans victoire”. That’s right he’s never won a professional race apart from the team time-trial in the 2005 Tour of Castille-Leon. In fact, his last individual victory was in 1993 while still riding as an amateur. Incredible as this may sound, very few riders win races. It’s a team sport and the team is committed to helping its leader win, so if you’re not the team leader, then….

Naturally, riders like Goubert are  much prized by teams.  I do recall he worked tirelessly, in this year’s Tour de France, in defence of his team mate’s yellow jersey, earning for himself, in the process, his best ever finish in the Tour: 16th. He also finished 3rd in the Dauphine libéré stage into Briançon. So, he leaves the peloton on a high, having enjoyed one of his most successful years. I’ve no idea of his future plans, but I wish him well in his new endeavours. By the way, he finished 81st in Paris-Bourges.

 Ag2R’s performance in this year’s Tour de France probably hoisted them in the league table above the soon-to-be-relegated teams of Bbox and Cofidis. Coincidentally, Ag2R commissioned an independent report on the value of their sponsorship during the Tour and the response was Euros 60 million worth of advertising. Not bad for an investment of Euros 8 million. Money well spent.