You’re NOT Invited!

As some of you know, I spent most of last week flat on my back contemplating my robotic mortality and cursing whatever pig-robot (pigbot?) had found a way to infect me with its H1N1 virus. For the most part, during this time, I cut myself off from media. No TV. No interweb.

And yet, some time, mid-week, an email from my friend Gustavo at Embrocation Journal snuck through. What did I think, he wanted to know, of the Tour de France invites from ASO this year. More specifically, he wanted to confirm that I was as angry as he was that Vacansoleil and some of the other small teams (Skil-Shimano, Saur Sojasun) that have so animated the first months of the season failed to make ASO’s grade while underperforming pro teams coasted in on their good looks and the pre-existing agreement the UCI and ASO have to admit 16 of the ProTour teams to the Grand Boucle automatically.

Even in my weakened state, I was able to give Gustavo what he wanted, a frank and terse evaluation of some of the ProTour’s lesser lights, a caustic dismissal of ASO’s motives and a side swipe at some of the peloton’s new entrants.

And as I’m just getting back on my feet this week (or back on my pedals as the case may be), I thought I’d trot out some of my ideas and see if we can’t get some discussion going.

First, let me say I can’t contrive a reasonable argument for excluding Vacansoleil from the Tour. The small, Dutch Pro-Continental team, in just its second year on the road, has won the overall of the Tour of Qatar with Wouter Mol, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with Bobbie Traksel and two stages of the Étoile de Bességes with Borut Bozic. Those are their wins, which tell only half the story. Vacansoleil’s riders have placed highly throughout the early season and pushed the big teams at every opportunity. They have done everything you would want a wild card Tour invitee to do and then a bit more.

Instead, ASO picked Garmin-Transitions, Team RadioShack, BMC Racing Team, Team Sky, Katusha and Cervelo TestTeam as their wild cards. If you run through this list, write down their major results for 2010 and then compare them to Vacansoleil, you’ll get very little in the way of difference. Some have won a little more. Some have won less. What you won’t see, but probably know, is that each of these teams has a great deal more money than the Dutch outfit. They’ve signed stars, so ASO imagines they’ll bring more attention to the Tour, as if the Tour suffers for a lack of attention.

Of the wild cards here, the one that actually rankles me most is RadioShack. The Shack have done a lot of not much this year. Every time their leader finds his way onto a television camera he is telling you why the race he’s about to ride is really just a tune up for the Tour and how he’s not going to push himself very hard or be very bothered by not getting a result. Meanwhile, his teammates wrack up no wins. Team RadioShack reminds me a bit of the Jackson’s Victory Tour, a money-spinning gallop across the globe by a former champion and his over-the-hill friends.

Ooooh, that’s harsh.

Still, the Shack’s value to ASO lies completely in the false rivalry between Armstrong and Contador. It’s a story that sells sponsorships, I suppose. And magazines. And yet, does anyone think Armstrong will get near el Pistolero in France this summer? The former champ has had a pretty poor buildup this season. He’s been sick. He’s been tired. And he’s been old. There are half-a-dozen riders or more that will finish above the marketing juggernaut come the final day in Paris.

On top of their lack of results, the Shack have gone about their business in that age-old Armstrong-Bruyneel way, i.e. with very little regard for any race that isn’t called the Tour de France. They’re not even racing the Giro! They’ve chosen the Tour of California “instead.” The ToC is a great race, an up-and-comer, a suitable rival for Paris-Nice and the other one week stage races, but one thing it is NOT is a good reason to skip the Giro d’Italia. A team with a budget like the Shack’s really ought to be able to contest both races anyway.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I don’t think the Shack deserves its Tour invite simply based on Armstrong’s legacy with the race and the money he’ll bring to its organizers. In the real world, those are entirely valid reasons for their inclusion. But from my perspective, they stink.

That brings us, rather unceremoniously, to the rest of the truth of this situation, which is that there a number of ProTour teams that just can’t pull their own weight. I’d name Team Milram, Footon-Servetto, Euskaltel-Euskadi among those. Because the UCI paved the way for guaranteed invitations to a group of ProTour squads in a 2008 accord that helped avoid a complete debacle in which ASO took its races and went home, they’re all in, but, if the ProTour had a minimum win number (say 10 races of a certain ranking per year), you’d see more licenses available for teams that win, but I am far from the first to suggest the UCI need a better system for promotion and relegation of pro teams.

Starting in 2011, only the first 17 teams in the UCI rankings at the end of 2010 will get guaranteed Tour invites, with the rest filled at ASO’s discretion. This may be a more equitable way of slicing the Tour pie, but, by and large, what you will end up with is still a race full of the wealthiest rather than the fastest teams. The rest can, perhaps, call Vacansoleil and book one of those summer holidays they sell when they’re not riding bicycles.

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  1. Mike

    Wasn’t this pretty much ASO’s specific argument throughout the entire Unibet debacle. They wanted to bring in the teams that made sense economically as well as those that they figured would animate the racing. Those teams that thought they were owed a slot simply because of size of their budget could go race somewhere else. The UCI obviously knows best once again…

  2. Souleur

    I couldn’t agree more, Vacansoleil deserves a spot to sit in and ride in the prom. But, as history has it, its utterly predictable that the ASO would indeed not recognize a team of this sort. Its a small conti team, underrated and over-performing, chucked full of talent and logically a gimme given the proven commodity, however, its utterly not French and its not proven itself to the elitists in the ASO, they have not kissed the ring nor has it greased the right hands evidently.

    I do however disagree with da Robot that Shack is undeserving. I think they do deserve it because of LA. It would be like not allowing Astana a couple of years ago, it was sour, and the best rider did not show, and it questions he rest of the pedigree of the podium finishers. At least this way, when the GC’r stands, he will stand without a doubt in the world. LA is the winningest tour rider and his prescence is proper. And with that in and of itself, dropping the right name, greasing the right commrade does get them in without a significant win or performance to date, and that is utterly the ASO. I am sorry but its simply the truth and for a million bucks, i can prove it.

    And here it is, April. More to come without a doubt.

    Glad the Robot is better, hope the H1N1 didn’t leave any rust in the joints or leave you pedaling geometric squares.

  3. Champs

    It may as well be ProTour lock-in, because all the debatable teams bought their slot, anyway.

    Vacansoleil: I don’t think anyone believes Vacansoleil didn’t deserve to race this edition. Among the possible changes, I think I’d swap Katusha for Vacansoleil.

    Euskaltel: absolutely belongs.

    Footon-Servetto, Milram, Whatever-Lotto: they bring nothing. Saur is the only team I can think to replace either one of them, but is any other team a real upgrade?

  4. Alex Torres

    I´m not sure I agree entirely with you Robot. I mean, you´ve made some really good points and I would love to see Vacansoleil battling out the big teams on the roads of the Tour as well. I´m just not sure if, or how, their good early-season results would translate into Tour performance, and the effects of their participation (and others left out) for the overall level of the competition. Maybe that´s the deciding factor for ASO in giving out invitations. Maybe not.

    Give them a chance? Sure that´s a good reason, or as good as any. But there´s big money and vested interests everywhere, and ASO is playing conservative here that´s for sure!

    Besides the obvious money, press and potential “drama” (fake or not), I´d guess that ASO invites the teams they believe will make the Tour their highlight of the season. It´s certainly the case of The Shack – despite the seemingly fact that maybe cycling has had too much of Armstrong and Bruyneel already.

    I´d say Garmin and Sky too, those teams are certainly eyeing a GC contention and perhaps a podium spot on the Tour. The others are just pack fodder. Well, I digress: the peloton would look slightly less ugly without Footon-Servetto´s uniform, but that´s another topic I admit :-p

  5. eatiusbirdius

    Robot, thanks for the article. I always look forward to new RKP posts.

    I must state up front 1) that I’m a yank (i.e. not very well rounded in terms of cycling lore and thus my possible ignorance below) and I root for RTS when they’re out on the road. I guess it’s only natural that I enjoy the teams that Bruyneel has put together simply because that is what I’ve been exposed to. 2) I agree with your conclusion in the post; I’m just not sure TRS, which seems to garner most of your attention, is the one that should be left out. I digress.

    That being stated, if we apply your logic (early season results being the only basis for entry into TDF), then I completely agree with you. TRS should not be allowed into the TDF. However, the better question should probably be, should we apply that sort of logic at all? Is it really fair to compare the early season results of teams that build themselves around the classics and those whose emphasis is built around Grand Tours? What if we were to reverse this logic and say teams that don’t perform well in the Grand Tours don’t get to run the Classics schedule? Seems odd doesn’t it? Bruyneel has never put together strong classics teams. Take Hincapie for example. Think of what he may have been able to do if he rode for a “classics” team in his younger years. I have to admit though, there is something very appealing about riders that go into every race wanting to win. Even if they don’t come close.

    As to the ToC vs. Giro, I agree. The ToC is no Giro and I doubt it could ever compare. However, it is turning out to be a darn good 1 week race (as you mentioned) and there is a lot of potential for some big Alps like stages due the varied terrain in CA. I honestly think though, this is simply a matter of the name on the jersey. If an Italian/Euro sponsor were on the jersey, this would be a non-issue and they’d be at the Giro. But with the marketing “juggernaut” that is Lance, it would be hard for TRS to pass up the biggest race in the US.

    I guess my only other point is this. I heard it recently said (and I apologize I don’t know where it was) that “if your teams only win throughout the entire season is the TDF, that season is still considered a complete success…and any directeur sportif would agree.” While I agree with you that TRS will most likely not win the TDF, it’s still a goal worth trying for if there’s a reasonable chance. And with Armstrong, Kloden, and Leipheimer in the TRS arsenal, it’s not too far fetched given the possibility for epic failure of their rivals over 3 weeks. I would love nothing more than to see TRS win the TDF and will be rooting for them…I’m just not sure of the odds with AC in the mix.

    Thanks again for your blog! Love it…

    1. Padraig

      Okay, so here’s the Devil’s advocate alternative: as much as I’d love to see Vacansoleil at the Tour, Radio Shack is guaranteed fireworks. Leaving out a team directed by Johan Bruyneel means leaving out an almost certain podium finisher—at bare minimum. Historically, he’s won 90% of the Tours de France his teams have lined up for. If you’re going to leave out Radio Shack, you should do it to keep the race open, competitive. In other words, leave them out not because they haven’t been competitive, but because they’ll be too competitive.

  6. Randomactsofcycling

    I’m with Alex, all the wildcards selected have a decent GC contender and Katusha have the realistic possibility of stage wins. It might be great for Vacansoleil to animate the early season, but would they animate the tour the same way? I agree with the wildcards selections this year. ASO are protecting their investment. Who can blame them?

  7. sophrosune

    @Padraig Really? Invite a team based on who its DS is? I know you think of Bruyneel as some sort of genius, but I’m pretty certain in the TdFs his team has one he has not made one pedal stroke. One thing we can be sure of though, a Bruyneel-led team will really only show up for one race a year. Unless, of course, you are forced out of that race in which case as the DS you are entirely dependent on the brillance of your star rider to sweep up the other two grand tours that year.

    I think that rankings at the end of the year might make for a better invitation criteria for the TdF the following year than early season results. While there are enough week-long stage races to counterbalance the one-day classics to measure results early in the season, you really need to know how the team will perform throughout a season. Some teams are powerhouses in February through April but then disappear. Take the prior year as a whole to see the value of a team and then apply that to the invitation list criteria the following year.

  8. Robot

    We can all argue about the particulars. I agree with most of the observations here, to be honest. My overarching point is that, if Vacansoleil doesn’t earn a Tour invite with the rides they’ve put in this year so far, then you can’t really ride your way into the Tour.

    Also, to those who say each of the Wild Cards has a GC contender, I’d defy you to name the GC rider for Katusha, Garmin or Cervelo.

    Christian Vande Velde and Carlos Sastre, much as I like and admire them both, are NOT GC contenders. VdV won’t get close to the podium, and Sastre is focussing on the Giro, I believe.

  9. SinglespeedJarv

    It should be for ASO to invite who they want and frankly everything is the UCI’s fault by introducing the ProTour. But that’s another arguement. Anyway, I’d agree that Robot is fairly close to the mark suggestion The Radio Shed are undeserving of a ride and BMC are a pretty close second. It’s only ‘cos Cuddles has the Rainbow Jersey that they got in.

    Anyway, this debate is likely to be null-and-void given that it seems that Lampre, have generously acknowledged that they can never be bothered to race at Le Tour and so are a total waste of everyone’s time and money and so have un-invited themselves, in favour of a team who can be bothered, by gamely involving themselves in another Italian Doping Scandal.

  10. todd k

    TDF invites are set up to get the same type of results one finds in highschool popularity contests. Appearance over merit. Drama over results. It makes the TDF a newsworthy event going into July, but that doesn’t guarantee that the actual results will mimic the buildup… but then again I doubt the ASO and UCI really need to care about that as the TDF always manufactures some degree of drama on its own once the event is in process.

    That said I think this is why I increasingly prefer the Classics over the TDF. The TDF is kind of like the superbowl and is highly vulnerable to being a bit underwhelming compared to the build up…. the classics are more like March Madness and you know upsets are going to occur.

  11. Champs

    I don’t think you can look at just the GC.

    At Katusha, I’d say Kirchen is their contender for yellow, and McEwen for green. Very meekly.

    Sastre will definitely race because of Cervelo’s invite… and add nothing. Don’t you pretty much have to allow the green jersey to defend, though?

    Among the automatics, I don’t think Columbia brings anything to the GC competition, except for the ugliest yellow jerseys. Then again, in a one-team race, it’s also the best looking. Rabobank is bringing Menchov, but this is the guy who literally collapses when the overall is on the line (See Alpe d’ Huez, Rome ITT).

  12. cthulhu

    Sorry Robot.
    I, too, think you are completely off. Although I would have liked to see Vacansoleil at thte Tour and I do believe they would have deserved it, some points of your perspective need some adjustments.

    1. Problem AC. There is no real challenger for him out there at the moment, at least it seems so. So for the Tour to be entertaining the need every possible opponent out there meaning Lance, Cadel and Bradley get to ride the Tour. If they cannot sell it, that would mean less money to present top noth cycling. Even for the Tour, although I guess they would struggle less than any other race.

    2. Problem ProTour. Once concepted as the cycling top league with not only a garanteed start at all ProTour races but also mandatory start it remains in shatters after the dispute between UCI and ASO. A ProTour license is quite expensive as I heard, quite a bit more for a PCT one (I don’t have the actual figures, but if anybody could enlighten us and prove me either right or wrong), and carries besides the bloated salaries of the officials also most of the other things involved to make this sport happen financially, so denying anybody with such a license his best advertising stage is a very problematic thing to do. Why would anybody buy such a license if he isn’t garanteed to start at the Tour? Sure it is a bit of buying your starting slot but hey, that is not the only way, right BMC? It already worked for Cervelo.
    But yes, the system needs a new structur after the ProTour only virtually exists.

    3. Your view is biased, at least I have the impression. You first go on ranting how Vacansoleil is cheated because not being invited although having quite a good list of success but then you say Milram and Foot-on don’t deserve their start besides them having at least a few victories and some good racing unlike BMC (0 Wins, also they didn’t presented themselves too well at the spring classics which is/was one of their main goals, Cadel is the only reason they are starting). I know a competitive and therefor entertaining team is more than the sheer figures. And Cadel’s form looks promising but take him from the team there isn’t much left. Ballan still has not recovered from his illness, Burghardt is solid but no winning material and Hincapie, a role model in his preparation and fitness as always, is unfortunately too old. I really grant him a Roubaix victory but I seriously doubt he will have the luck and the liveliness(i hope that is the correct word) for it. Also you bash Radioshack for not delivering in the spring classics, but you know it is a team with one and only one goal, bringing home a(Lancs’s eight) Tour victory, while no complaines about BMC underperfoming(sucking) this spring, which was one of their declared goals.

    Also, the Tour is a grand tour and i don’t see any contender for the GC in their roster. It would be just another team more on the search for stage victories and Advertising time in the breakaways. And there are already enough there, like Milram on the search for a new sponsor, Euskadi always trying to shine on their home soil, BBox, FdJ, Garmin, Katusha, Foot-on…so there is actually no need for another one without a GC contender.

  13. Robot

    @cthulu You are obviously right that I’m completely off. What I described was really more my world view (that you should have to try all the time, not just in July, to be a pro team) than any sort of practical reality. To respond to your specific points:

    1) Lance won’t be a realistic challenger to Contador. Lance won’t make the podium this year. It was only his rival’s preoccupation with Contador that kept him from being attacked more directly last year. That allowed Kloden to tow him onto the platform. Oooh, that’s harsh again. BUT…you’re right that there is NO WAY ASO would forgo the obvious publicity that Armstrong v Contador the Rematch is going to bring.

    2) You’re only partially right here. Only those 2008 ProTour teams were guaranteed berths in the Grand Boucle. RS, Cervelo, Garmin, etc. were wild cards even though they’re ProTour. As to your question, why would anyone spend the extra dosh on a ProTour license, well, this is the real bind, since it’s supposed to guarantee entry to races the UCI doesn’t actually control. What we have now is less an operating structure for pro teams and more a working detente between the UCI and the race owners.

    3) Yes. True. I am biased. And, I definitely overdramatized some things to make an underlying point, which is, that you ought to be able to ride your way into the Tour de France, but Vacansoleil’s exclusion proves that wasn’t possible this year. And yes, Vacansoleil’s results in 2010 have been better than Milram or Footon-Servetto. Easily. But, again, this is all much sound and fury signifying nothing.

    Except a good reason to have a bit of an argument. Thanks for writing.

    1. Padraig

      While I DO think Armstrong will be competitive and at the very least keep the GC contenders in a certain sort of fear, the observations regarding Footon-Servetto, Milram and Lampre are spot-on. Vacansoleil, if only for the way they rode the Vuelta would have done more than those three teams put together at the Tour. They would at least have animated daily breaks and probably stolen a stage along the way. Those guys ride until their eyeballs pop out. Right now, they are easily my favorite Pro Continental team. They ride with more heart than I can remember a team doing in years. While I loved the prospect of Slipstream as the little team that could in ’08, Vacansoleil does a much better job of it by riding much more aggressively.

      My esteemed colleague Robot does bring up an interesting point regarding GC. What constitutes a GC contender? Is it only someone who has a real chance at the podium or is it something broader? In my head, if you crack the top-10, then you are/were a GC contender. Good guys crack and wind up in the lower half of the top-20 and we still often refer to them as former GC contenders. I see a GC contender as something a little broader than just those guys who have the real potential to win.

      Regarding the question of why spend the money on a ProTour license, the answer is easy: at this point, if your team wasn’t ProTour in 2008, then there are no guarantees for ASO events. As a result, you’ve got to do everything you can to impress them. The ProTour license helps demonstrate your sponsor has serious aspirations. Frankly, I’d do that AND send a busload of hookers to the ASO offices if I wanted to ride ASO events.

      Oh, and for the record, I read lots of Lovecraft when I was young; I’m not inclined to get too crossed up with anyone called Cthulhu. It would end badly for me. 😉

  14. cthulhu

    I know only the 16 ProTour teams of 2008 have a contract, but still the newer ones would feel like cheated if not included. As we both pointed out the system is broken. Also Cervelo isn’t a ProTour team, but this mistake happens, their roster and their budget is equal and/or better/bigger than quite a few ProTour teams.
    And this is exactly the point where I believe the system is broken. That although financially capable, they save the extra bucks for a higher ranking to get better racers. Of course the team with more money will have at least on the paper the better riders and will go to the Tour but some are more handycapped at the moment in this system. And that’s why although I think we are one the same side you are beating the wrong teams for Vacansoleil’s non-existant chance. Maybe I’m biased there, but bashing of Milram, Euskadi and Footon was a bit unjusted imo. Milram has in my opinion more talent than Vacansoleil although the loss of the Velits brothers and the broken collarbone of Ciolek really hurts. I just wonder why they don’t get to show it see Haussler Gerolsteiner and Cervelo. Euskadi, they are selfhandicapped through only employing Basque riders and at the moment there arent many besides Sanchez. Also have you ever seen on of them winning a race this early and especially without mountains and temperatures below 25°C? Footon, after all the dope things it is nice to see that somebody is willing to try a new start and not another team died, also they are a pretty young and inexperienced team, that should be interesting to see how the present themselves at the Tour.

    A little bit offtopic: Can anyone explain Evans’ move to BMC besides the money? I know he was unhappy and also he didnt get enough love and support at Lotto, but is his support better now? I mean all the other famous names in their roster are all classics riders which should get some wins in spring if Evans alone wouldnt get them the invitation. I don’t see anybody there who could give him any support in mountains, his mayor complaint about Lotto being to much focussed on classics. Is there something I’m missing?

  15. Alex Torres

    I´m with Padraig here. I`ve seen enough in my life to never, ever bet against talent and star. Some guys just “have it”, and both Armstrong and Bruyneel have an amazing, above-average capacity to focus, plan, work hard and play smart. I believe they´ll be competitive too.

    That doesn´t mean I´m betting on Armstrong to win the Tour or even make it into the podium like last year. But I´m certainly not counting them off either. No way.

    I have the feeling that even Lance and JB´s fans like me are a bit fed up with the whole… well, Lance and JB thing. They had their moment and all, good times and all… But I´m also sure their competitors are on their toes, working extra hard on the bike at this very moment, just because he´s lining up in July. And that alone should make up for a more competitive, dramatic (yes) and exciting Tour. At least for me.

    As for a GC contender, I start considering a rider a GC when this rider starts racing for GC. Much in the way that Wiggo did last year, or Rassmussen did in 2007 seemingly out of the blue, or Evans does since… well, forever. It´s an attitude, a hunger, with an element of undefined, more than a real chance at GC, that counts for me. My opinion.

  16. eatiusbirdius

    While I know it’s not fashionable outside of the U.S. to like TRS (or Lance for that matter), I’m still a little perplexed as to why most think TRS shouldn’t be in the TDF. At least I haven’t seen anyone give solid evidence yet as to why that should be the case. Aren’t they bringing 90-95% of the same team that rode for the winner AND 3rd place rider last year? And since that’s true, wasn’t Astana the number 1 in the UCI Team Ranking last year [1]? Even if you take all of Contador’s points away from Astana’s Team Ranking, you still have a team that finished in the top 11 teams for 2009 [2]. While I totally get why people don’t like the “same place, same thing” factor that Bruyneel brings to the TDF, I’m not sure that should disqualify them from entry.

    As to Lance not being on the podium; barring accident, I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t make the podium. Simply put, he should be in better shape this year than last, he’s got the same team riding for him that brought him and Contador to the podium last year, and he doesn’t have to worry about attacking his teammate this year. Now, whether he actually can attack may be a different story. Plus, while I know Astana is looking strong right now, weak teams get exposed quickly in the biggest race of the year and it will be interesting to see how well they do in Tour.


  17. Touriste-Routier

    The problem with all of this analysis is that you are trying to see things from a sporting perspective, and the issue is largely a business perspective.

    The fatal flaw in the ProTour is that cycling is not a league; the races are privately owned, without confederation, and there is no sustainable tangible value to owning a team. The UCI is trying, but ultimately they will fail, unless they own something tangible, and/or can provide revenue sharing among the parties. But this is a digression.

    The real business issue as to which teams get selected, is the commercial interest of the race organizer, which largely relies on television rights, and sponsorship dolalrs that large audiences can attract.

    Lance/Radio Shack brings the US, the largest consumer marketplace in the world. Sky brings the UK and to some extent, the rest of the English speaking nations. Having many French Teams captures the hopes and imagination of the host nation.

    The Netherlands is well covered by Rabobank, thus Vaconsoleil and Skil-Shimano need not apply. Some of the other teams bring interest from other areas of the globe; ever important, when trying to sign new, larger sponsors.

    However there are other business interests, such as hospitality revenue (larger teams typically have more hospitality requirements), and shared sponsorship (note that Cervelo is a sponsor of the Giro).

    As for sporting reasons to invite or not invite a particular team, justification either way can easily be found or fabricated.

    As to why a team might decide to go Pro-Continental vs. ProTour, it is largely economic- the overhead costs are lower: the license is less, less riders are required (you don’t have to guarantee appearances at races you’d rather not be at), the biological passport program isn’t mandatory(only if you want to be a wildcard), but it also adds flexibility to your race program.

    If you are selected as a wild card team, as a Pro-Conti team, you can race both up at the ProTour level, and down at lower level UCI races, whereas ProTour teams are prevented from riding many of the smaller races. Plus you save the hassle of being part of something (and investing in) a program that most of the world thinks is crap, which could go away at anytime, especially if there is another ASO/RCS vs. UCI battle.

    The real question isn’t why a team would go for a Pro-Conti license (for some teams ProTour isn’t an option), but rather why some riders would risk signing for them, if they aren’t guaranteed entry into their target races.

    As for Radio Shack choosing the ToC over the Giro, sure as a PT squad, they should be able to field a team at both, but the US registered squads have to race on home soil, and it gives the Giro an opportunity to invite some other teams that they have a commercial interest in seeing compete.

    This all said, I wish it did come down to sporting reasons; I like watching the baroudeur aspect of the Pro-Conti & Conti squads; when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain, which makes for great racing! This one reason why the classics are so great to watch.

  18. Champs

    Nobody’s hypotheses seem to explain the addition of Garmin. Furthermore, let’s just agree that the 2008 Tour isn’t a legitimate data point. If the dealer can’t hit, almost anyone can beat the house, if you know what I mean.

  19. sophrosune

    I’ve just got to say the articles on RKP are great, but the comments sections are the best not only for cycling blogs, but anywhere. This stuff just amazes me sometimes at the depth of research, thought and good writing. Bravo, guys. Just had to say that.

  20. Author

    @sophrosune Agreed completely on comments here. Everyone (Touriste-Routier especially) has added something lucid and thoughtful to the discussion.

    Armstrong out of Circuit d’ Sarthe now. Virus. Someone’s buildup is NOT going very well.

  21. sophrosune

    It’s pretty simple, Padraig and Robot, write insightful, challenging and well-written articles and you’re likely to attract the same in your readers and in their comments. (I admit I take the challenging part a little bit too far sometimes ;-)). Cheers.

  22. blacksocks

    Katusha = Joaquin Rodriguez for GC I believe…not sure how he’ll fare because I don’t think he’s great against the clock, but he can climb and has some tactical savvy…

    That said, the gem in this haystack is the point that a team can’t really just ride their way into the Tour. Despite what ASO implies about Tour selection. But if you’re equating the ASO with truthful statements instead of political maneuvering, then you might want to start looking elsewhere for the truth…

  23. jza

    TR knows the score.

    Katusha = Russia, for some reason Russia and the UCI are really keen on developing cycling in Russia. Probably because insanely rich oil oligarchs want to develop cycling in Russian. ASO/UCI will happily be cashing large checks from them in the near future. After being scorned once, Russians tend not to play nice. Best let them come to the party.

    Cycling is much more international than it was a decade ago. Who will suffer most? The third tier European squads like Vacansoleil/Skil/Saur who used to be able to scrape their way into the Tour.

  24. Souleur

    I need to make it a better habit of following the comments closer. You all have some great points.

    -cthulhu makes some very good points about the dynamics at play here, and I largely agree.

    As to one question asked as to what makes a GC’r, that is a big question. My consideration is different perhaps than many. Padraig mentions those who top ten may be considered GC’rs, however, I tend to see the GC’r as a personality. A personality worn by the top alpha rider who is by right recognized by his colleagues as GC. Its a dominating personality, a hierarchy of respect and at the penultimate is the GC’r, in my opinion. Under that are many contenders, many hopes, many fading dreams and careers. All perhaps well respected, well accomplished, yet one GC’r. I will say, after LA retired (the first time) there was a period that there was confusion within the order and perhaps no GC’r who rose. Indurain was a GC’r, Hinault was a vicious GC’r, and there are a good number of those, who in my mind were recognizably GC. I hope that sheds light on it, and this year, entering in the TdF, there is one GC’r and that is Contador.

    Touriste-Routier makes a great comment about the sporting side of the consideration and the business side, and I appreciate the way he insightfully opens up the entirity of the international consideration of inclusion into the race itself. It is a broad consideration, and our interest is not their interest.

    And after it all, we all continue to watch it…right?

  25. todd k

    Thinking through it, and the comments posted, it seems a reasonable consensus that the tour selection process highly prioritizes the GC drama and in doing so potentially undermines the amount of drama that can be produced elsewhere during the three weeks.

    Ride as you might, the only way you could likely ride into the tour is if you were able to clearly demonstrate that your team will perpetuate that GC drama. But with no real opportunities to do so in the current season prior to the selection process, this is not really a possibility. Your best bet is that if you are not guaranteed a spot heading into the season you had best hire a proven GC rider on your roster if you want in the tour before the season begins. But then you are well on your way to becoming yet another team overly focused on the grand tour GC.

    And that is a shame for those of us wishing for the levels of drama sought in the GC to be considered as strongly outside the GC. Don’t get me wrong, the GC is a big deal. But it is three week race with lot of nooks and crannies for other drama. And I’m talking beyond the Green Jersey. It may be, though, that the group of folks commenting on RKP is part of an minority who value the tour for what it can provide beyond the GC. I would imagine many of the folks commenting highly value past tour moments such as those produced by the Jacky Durands or Thomas Voekler’s of the peloton (as well as others) and readily find those instances say as much about the Tour as do the end results on the GC.

    1. Padraig

      Todd K: Anyone who will reference Jacky Durand gets my vote for knowing guts when he sees it. I miss that guy. That said, I think the nature of the selection this year has a lot to do with the fact that there are so many really promising GC riders who aren’t riding for automatic selection teams. You make a really valid point regarding sources of drama, but I think the combination of selection criteria and the fact that so many teams (e.g. Shack and BMC among others) have riders ASO wants there. If we roll the clock back a few years, all the big GC riders were on automatic selection teams, so the wild card selections were a free-for-all with nobody teams riding on the rivet for the whole of a race until the real engines took over. I’m thinking back to when there were teams like Vlaanderen 2002. Those guys didn’t win much, but they were game.

      Put another way, if ASO hadn’t instituted such a weird rule regarding which teams automatically qualify, I think Vacansoleil would have been much more likely to be selected because fewer wild card selections would have been used on valid GC teams.

  26. Big Mikey

    Touriste-Routier said it, the inclusion of teams is either contractually designated (UCI-ASO agreement) or for business purposes. If there are remaining spots, the sporting considerations would be taken into account. Sky, Garmin, BMC, etc. have big name riders, which increase the exposure of the tour with guys like Hincapie, Sastre, Wiggens, and in important foreign markets in the US, Russia, Britain, etc.. And to suggest that ASO would ever NOT invite Radio Shack is ludicrous. LA is the biggest money train those guys have ever seen.

    By the way Robot, I like your bold statement of LA’s chances. Most of the English speaking media is still taking him seriously, not to mention the LA fanboys. The only way he beats Contador is if AC gets popped for cheating. And then the Schlecks and several others would take it to him. AC would have given LA a run for his money in LA’s halcyon days.

  27. Bluenoser

    In my humble opinion there seems to be a mixup as to where the best should be competing. To me the Tour and the other Grand Rides are now more shows than an event of who is the best.

    Being a Canadian and seeing what happened to hockey, maybe the World Championships need to be re-thought. Let these self serving committees choose who they want to be in their shows. Let the LA’s race only to show up in these shows. But…

    Make the Worlds’s stricter. Make it a longer event like a three or five day event and make it that you have to be a champion of your country to get there but that you have to have a certain amount of world cup type races under your belt to get get there also. Not just show up on your countries championships with a crony or two and take it.

    Like I said, these Tours are a show and the Worlds are a Joke when it comes to proving who is the real King or Queen.

    It’s all money.


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