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.

So, what do you think?

My better half was in Paris yesterday morning for a meeting at the Palais des congrès. No, he wasn’t at the 2010 Tour de France Presentation but, if he had been, I’m sure this is what he’d have said.

This is a Tour for climbers and, with no team time-trial, and only one individual time-trial, the main protagonists will be Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck.  The lack of a team time-trial will also have been music to the ears of other podium contenders, such as Evans, Sastre and Menchov.  Given how the Pyrenees completely boss the last week of the Tour, Bert can be excused that big smile punctuating his face. Or was he grinning at the thought that Lance is going to find that last week really, really tough?

The 2009 Podium
The 2009 Podium

However, the skinny climbers will need to be on their guard in the first week when they’ll be well outside their comfort zone as cobbles and windy stretches abound. Classics specialists like Boonen, Cancellara and Hushovd will be hopeful of wearing yellow, or at least green, in those early days. Stages four (Reims), five (Montargis) and six (Gueugnon) look like sprint stages, but thereafter that race for the green jersey is probably going to favour Thor as there are fewer opportunities for the sprinters and they’ve got to get over all those hills.

Next year, the Alps are playing a supporting role to the Pyrenees which are the headline act, marking the 100th anniversary of their first Tour appearance. However, the four days in the northern Alps should not be under-estimated and they are succeeded by some  toughish transition stages which may, or may not, end in bunch sprints.

Clearly the intention on the 2010 Tour is to showcase the Pyrenees, starting with the stage 14 summit finish at Ax-3-Domaines. This acts as an amuse bouche to a grand tasting menu. First course, three difficult cols en route to Luchon: Portet d’Aspet, Ares and Balès. Main course: they cross the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque to finish in Pau. Dessert, and final course in the Pyrenees, is a stage from Pau to the top of the Tourmalet, via the western approach over the Marie-Blanque and Soulor. Climbing the Tourmalet twice, once in each direction, will really celebrate the Tour’s most majestic mountain.

If the mountains don’t prove decisive then there’s the 51km time-trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac before the final day procession into Paris. I expect to see Contador, riding for Astana, in the yellow jersey.

Sadly, there was no mention of any festivities planned for the other Tour fixture also celebrating its centenary next year: the broom wagon!

Broom wagon
Broom wagon

Questions now answered

A number of questions,  posed a few days ago, have now been answered. Valverde’s a “no show”. Tom had a last minute reprieve, however, as he’s been missing in action so far, it’s hard to justify his sponsor’s calculations of Euros 25 million in lost “advertising” if he’d not been allowed to participate. The Tour is still young but he’s most unlikely to dislodge Cav from the firm grip he has on the green jersey. He’s 91 points ahead of Tom after only 3 sprint stages.

At the team presentation last Thursday, Lance said,  as a 7-times Tour winner, he had nothing to prove and was just looking forward to taking part. Methinks he doth protest too much. I, for one, didn’t believe a word of it and neither should Alberto, who’s wearing the Astana leader’s jersey, something which has obviously riled Lance.

By chance, I spent yesterday evening in the same hotel as Astana who have twice as many motorised vehicles as the other teams, giving credence to the two clans, one team theory propounded by journalists, and confirmed by Benjamin Noval. I’m now wondering, after Lance showed his hand on Monday by putting time into all his rivals, including Contador, whether we’re going to see scenes reminiscent of 2005 where Vino was chased down by his T-Mobile team mates.

Prudhomme assured us that the Tour course would prolong the suspense until the penultimate stage. However, the only outstanding question is which Astana riders, and in what order, will they top the podium. Everyone else seems down and out. Does this mean that the Spaniards will be helping out Bert or has Lance already bought them off, after all his pockets are deeper? Though it couldn’t buy him 22 hundredths of a second yesterday to snatch yellow from Spartacus.