Friday Group Ride #55

In a departure from recent tradition, Christian Prudhomme released the list of Tour de France team invitations early. Twenty-two teams were on the list, the eighteen ProTeams and four wild cards, all French. The managers of FDJ, Saur-Sojasun, Cofidis and Europcar must have been giggling over their morning croissants. Mauro Gianetti at Geox – TMC, excluded from the race, despite having former Tour winner Carlos Sastre and regular podium finisher Denis Menchov on their roster, was not nearly so pleased.

Prudhomme insisted his team selections were about supporting French cycling, but not everyone bought that explanation.

As John Wilcockson wrote for VeloNews, Geox-TMC’s summer vacation is less about Prudhomme favoring French teams, but rather more about old vendettas against Giannetti. The Italian had managed the Saunier-Duval team of Ricardo Ricco, the Italian climber banned for two years, busted at the 2008 Tour. No matter that Gianetti immediately fired Ricco, the Geox-TMC boss in persona non grata for Prudhomme and ASO.

Is it odd then that BMC rides so many ASO events, despite their connection to the Phonak team, also run by Andy Rihs? Phonak won the 2006 Tour with their leader Floyd Landis. Has there been a more embarrassing event in recent Tour history than Landis’ disqualification?

This week’s Group Ride asks the following: Is Geox-TMC’s exclusion fair? Does the invitation of demonstrably weaker French teams hurt the race? What do you think about ASO punishing teams for the behavior of past riders?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Adam

    If anything, the lack of any ‘punishment’ for BMC despite their connection to Phonak would disprove the notion that Prudhomme was into holding grudges against managers of former drug-addled teams.

    The explanation presented, “to promote French cycling,” is to me worse in a way. I can understand wanting to let French teams ride in a French race, but the Tour de France isn’t just a French race. its THE race. I imagine the ASO has dominion over numerous French races; its not like he couldn’t throw those French Pro-Conti teams a bone… Or maybe even a compromise? Two French teams and two deserving international squads for those wildcards?

    But no, at the expense of a team with two TdF prospects, we get to see Cofidis, whose sole exploit last year at the Tour was Julien El Fares’ 4th place in the Young Rider classification, at nearly an hour off the pace.

    I think the real loser here isn’t Geox, but fans. I bet this year is going to be great anyway, but its still a shame.

  2. James

    Frankly, I think the ASO can invite whomever they want. I don’t have any problem with them punishing teams for past sins. They did it to Astana which kept Contador from defending his title despite the team being entirely different to the team that cheated the year before. I don’t blame them for doing what they do. They have the premier event in the sport and they don’t like being embarrassed…neither would I!

  3. todd k

    I think Wilcockson is being overly speculative. I would be more inclined to buy into the Geox exclusion as a fulfillment of vendetta if we were also hearing about ASO pressuring Vacansoleil to forbid Ricco’ to ride lest that team also be excluded. The image we have from 2008 is Ricco’ being hauled away in cuffs. Far as I know he is free to ride it this year for Vacansoleil. (But at the same time everyone is being very non committal on him riding the Tour this year. )

    The point Robot makes regarding BMC underscores that it is speculative that Prudomme is punishing Ricco’s former team manager. His behavior suggests he is somewhat inconsistent perhaps, though he generally he seems to state explicitly when he is doing excluding teams as retribution(ala Astana in 2008).

    I think his rationale is probably a bit less dramatic in this case. Rather than getting into a pissing match with the UCI as they have sometimes in the past regarding tour selections, they are simply fulfilling their agreement. We get the 18 UCI pro teams in without debate. In turn they select the four wild card slots however they see fit. I’m not terribly surprised they would select 4 french teams. It is the ASO, it is the French Tour. It is on French soil. Their selection is an act of investment into French cycling.

    To turn this on its head, why should Prudomme select Geox? It does have very talented rider in Denis Menchov. He is probably the only victim here. But with all due respect, he is probably the most invisible an uncharismatic tour contender I could name. He likely doesn’t resonate strongly with the French public. And that rider is this team’s strong selling point. Beyond that it gets pretty dire on this roster. It is a team that cannot meet the UCI minimums to be a pro tour team. It has a rider in Sastre that has not performed at the levels he performed when he won in 2008. Even his good days are lackluster. The remainder of the roster has not shown much of in the way of a palmares in the past few years. Nothing here suggests this team is a lock in to animate the French public. And if that argument cannot be made, why should Prudomme to dole them out an invite that the ASO are free to use as they wish?

    I feel bad for Menchov. But then he did choose to go to Geox.

  4. Touriste-Routier

    Wild card invites by definition are discretionary.

    Fair? Life’s not fair. This isn’t about sport, it is about business. ASO owns the race, owns the risk, knows their audience, and must act according to how they think best to serve them. While we are all entitled to our opinions, they don’t mean squat.

  5. michael

    Fair has nothing to do with it – it’s a privately held, privately run for-profit venture. Other than contractual obligations agreed upon with the UCI regarding automatic entry to the 18 Pro Tour teams, fair is not the angle you should be using.

    If you re-framed your question asking “Is it morally and ethically just….”

    THEN we’d have something to talk about from a philosophical point of view!

  6. jmg

    Come on, Ricco isn’t Gianetti’s only brush with doping. Piepoli? Heulot? 10-day coma? As far as managers go, this guy has earned his persona-non-grata status more than most. We always bitch in here that this doesn’t start and finish with the riders, so why not applaud the ASO for trying to hold crooked managers responsible, too.

  7. Souleur

    Agreed, fairness isn’t necessarily in the equation here.

    Perhaps a little edgy to think, but in my mind also, it may be refreshing to add a few minors in that may dice things up at the prom. Afterall, everyone loves the underdog.

  8. Author

    All – Thanks for your thoughts. In my mind, the real problem with this year’s invitations is that they’ve shown how little merit has to do with being invited to the biggest race in the world. Because we’re talking about this in January, many of the ProContinental teams had zero chance to prove their mettle. Last year we debated the fact that Vacansoleil, who had shown so well in the Spring, weren’t invited.

    If we push the issues of fairness and vendettas aside, my interest, as a fan, is to see the best teams race that race. What Prudhomme has said, in effect, is that he doesn’t really care. That would be true whether those four wild cards were French, Italian or Dutch.

    I do hope that some one of those French “stars” is able to rise to the summer challenge. It’s not the invitations themselves that disappoint me. It’s the manner of them.

  9. Marco Placero

    Maybe Geox will send Menchov and Sastre to California. That would pucker a few orifices. Hoping ToC keeps its Euro-trash ‘tude.
    Gotta second the posit that ASO might end up with a blander boucle.

  10. randomactsofcycling

    I agree with what seems to be the majority rule here: it’s ASO’s race and they can invite whoever pleases them. As to the manner in which it was done – I actually think it’s a lot more transparent than in recent years. The individual rider names that Prudhomme mentions are all likely (French) stage winners or winners past. The fact that the announcements have been made early also means that those riders can plan their season and training to ensure they are indeed likely to spice things up a little.
    Good for Prudhomme – he wants to support French cycling when it has taken a bit of a kick in the guts by losing some Pro-Team licences.
    And as has also been mentioned – are there two riders on one team less likely to animate a race than Sastre or Menchov?

  11. todd k

    JMG: If the ASO were making a statement that they were holding Gianetti accountable, that would be ok and great by me. But that they are doing so is speculative in my opinion.

  12. Erik

    I wasn’t going to comment until the saw the comment on ToC. Send them to Cali. Because Geox is the business of selling shoes. Geox makes good shoes and you don’t see them that often in the U.S.

    Indulge me in a quick anecdote. My daughter is 100% princess. “Pink” is her motto. When presented with princess-esque gym shoes and a pair of blue Geox shoes she was skeptical. She tried both pairs on. She went with Geox. They “make me run much faster,” she said.

    Dear Geox, sell some more shoes over here. I’ll buy them. And bring me some awesome riders. My last trip to France was expensive anyway.

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