No room at the Vuelta

Fans will be denied the chance to see a repeat of Johnny Hoogerland’s daily daring escapes during this year’s Vuelta a España. Yes, that’s right Vacansoleil weren’t invited to yet another grand tour and neither were Skil Shimano.  However, to give Unipublic their due they have invited two smaller Spanish outfits,  Xacobeo-Galicia and Andalucia Caja-sur, whose very existence probably depends on their annual appearance in the Vuelta.

The organisers have however made the (brave?) decision not to invite either BMC or The Shack as neither Cadel nor Lance respectively were scheduled to ride. I understand BMC didn’t seek an invite but The Shack had proposed a pretty strong  line up which included recent Criterium Dauphine winner Janez Brajkovic, Andreas Kloeden, Chris Horner, Haimer Zubeldia and  Levi Leipheimer – not too shabby. Instead rsvps have been sent to those 16 teams covered by the September 2008 agreement with UCI (which expires at the end of this season) and Team Sky, Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervelo Test Team.

Relegation woes

A week or so ago Pat McQuaid, UCI Head Honcho, talked about the bar being raised for acquisition/retention/renewal of a Pro-Tour licence. It now appears that this bar is results based with financial, ethical and political considerations. The two bottom ranked squads, Bbox and Cofidis, are being denied renewal of their licence based on their lowly UCI ranking (see table below). The lowest ranked Pro-Tour team Fuji Servetto is apparantly re-inventing itself as Footon Servetto, leaving the two formerly mentioned teams in the relegation zone, although, critically, their place is assured in next year’s Grand Tours. Unsurprisingly, their top riders are already talking about jumping ship while team managers are putting on brave faces and sponsors are standing firm.

Lampre’s licence has been (provisionally) renewed for the next 4 years and Milram’s (the only German Pro-Tour team) for next season. Astana’s is under review in the light of the financial issues earlier in the season.

On the other hand, Pro-Continental teams Cervelo, Diquigiovanni and Acqua & Sapone, on account of their league spots, will gain automatic entry into Pro-Tour events. This rather begs the question of why should one bother paying the additional costs inherent in a Pro-Tour licence.

Add in new teams Sky (licence confirmed) and The Shack (licence pending) and one is back to 20 top teams with automatic entry into Pro-Tour events, though not all those organised by ASO, Unipublic or RCS. This could leave slim pickings for Pro-Continental teams such as Vacansoleil, Skil Shimano and BMC who have all strengthened their squads in the hope and expectation of clearing the bar.

UCI Rankings

1 ASTANA 1100
2 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 1048
3 TEAM COLUMBIA – HTC 957
4 TEAM SAXO BANK 941
5 LIQUIGAS 923
6 CERVELO TEST TEAM 804
7 QUICK STEP 760
8 SILENCE-LOTTO 717
9 RABOBANK 667
10 TEAM KATUSHA 637
11 GARMIN – SLIPSTREAM 612
12 EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI 551
13 LAMPRE – N.G.C 465
14 SERRAMENTI PVC DIQUIGIOVANNI-ANDRONI GIOCATTOLI 379
15 FRANÇAISE DES JEUX 238
16 AG2R LA MONDIALE 206
17 ACQUA & SAPONE – CAFFE MOKAMBO 189
18 TEAM MILRAM 182
19 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 170
20 COFIDIS, LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 166

Random thoughts

This is the week when the football transfer season closes and it’s open season for the cyclists. Generally, it’s been the case that much speculated about transfers on various cycling websites and forums have been confirmed.  Sky, mindful of the soccer transfer deadline, has decided to keep everyone in suspense for a few days more over their new line-up for 2010.

For my mind, the most interesting aspect of the forthcoming season is how many teams want Pro-Tour licences. The UCI had always hoped that demand would exceed supply, we’ll have to wait and see whether that is indeed the case. Aside from the known new applicants, The Shack and Sky, there’s a number of teams hoping to extend their licences for another year. Will they succeed or will they be demoted to Pro- Conti status in favour of those wanting 3-year licences? Again, we’ll have to wait and see. Despite everyone’s prediction of the early demise of cycling (and its sponsors) the reverse would seem to be the case. Is it the Lance effect? Or has the global credit crunch switched more fans onto a sport that’s free to watch, either live or over the internet?

Meanwhile, the walking wounded ie most of those taking part in the Vuelta were no doubt happy to see the back of the rain soaked, diesel or dirt-slicked, crowded with traffic calming measures and liberally coverd in slide-inducing white paint  roads of Holland and Belgium for the much sunnier and warmer climes of Spain. I dare say that some of the riders on the Pro-Continental Spanish squads never want to venture that far north again. Their worst nightmare would be their DS saying ” great news we’ve got a wild card for some of the Belgian Classics.” Though, I noted some riders still had problems staying in the saddle yesterday. 

Much as I love riding my bike most days, I know that some of the most fruitful days are those that I spend off the bike, recuperating. Thanks to the return of the chest infection, I have had a quiet couple of weeks. Yesterday, I felt fully recovered and was positively flying along. I even overtook some riders (in club shirts) while going uphill: almost as rare an occurrence as hen’s teeth. 

A week or so ago I mentioned that my worse case scenario is being home sick with an incapable of dealing with the situation, healthy husband. I need to revise this. It’s actually, me being at home with tons of stuff to do while having to look after an unexpectedly, incapacitated, and even more demanding than normal husband.