COULD TOUR SNUB ASTANA AND HIGH ROAD TOO?
While the spotlight is on Angelo Zomegnan, the boss of the Giro d’Italia, Christian Prudhomme is waiting in the wings to reveal the teams that will take part in the 2008 Tour de France.
ASO, the race organiser, has a completely free hand and, with an announcement anticipated early as next week (although it wouldn’t be a surprise if it happened any day now), thoughts must turn to the Tour and who will be the lucky recipients.
In many ways it’s a throwback to the days before the ProTour. Flawed though the UCI’s system was, at least it guaranteed the biggest teams a place in the biggest races without an unseemly scrabble. The top teams bolstered their rosters to cope with three grand tours each season – but one or two of them now look as if they will struggle to give all their riders enough racing if they are left out of one major race or other.
The Giro has sent a firm message that it will decide which teams are fit to take part. Prudhomme looks set to make a similarly strong stance, saying that if there are to be omissions, entire teams will be left in the cold, not just individual riders.
It’s anyone’s guess how many teams Prudhomme will invite in the first instance.
HOW MANY TEAMS?
The number of teams taking part in the Tour in recent years
It seems certain six French teams will get a place. The other ProTour teams would feel aggrieved to be left out. Barloworld and Slipstream look likely to get wild card places.
And that leaves High Road and Astana. If Prudhomme opts to invite 20 teams they will be vulnerable.
Unlike in Italy, Prudhomme does not have a bunch of small but relatively strong Pro Continental squads to choose from.
So if he leaves out High Road or Astana it won’t be because of logistical reasons – it’ll be a deliberate, politically-motivated snub.
Française des Jeux
Caisse d’Epargne Perhaps the most precarious because of the controversy surrounding Alejandro Valverde refuses to die completely – however, the fact the sponsor is a French company should swing it
Quick Step They’re never going to leave out mutiple stage winner and green jersey holder Tom Boonen
Silence-Lotto Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen ensure the team is competitive overall and in the sprints
CSC After a sticky patch last July, when Christian Prudhomme stripped Bjarne Riis of his 1996 Tour title and stated he was not welcome at the race, relations have defrosted considerably. CSC are now a year into their new testing regime, carried out independently by Ramsus Damsgaard
Euskaltel-Euskadi Leaving Samuel Sanchez out last year didn’t impress Prudhomme. Always feature in the overall standings but Prudhomme will want to be sure Euskaltel take their top man this time
Gerolsteiner Caught in the crossfire between the German TV stations and the Tour following Patrik Sinkewitz’s (T-Mobile) positive test. Exclusion this year would be extremely harsh on Hans Michael Holczer – one of the most outspoken against doping
Lampre Word has it the French are not impressed by Crédit Agricole’s omission from the Giro. There is also the worry that Thor Hushovd may also be denied a shot at Milan-San Remo by RCS. What’s this got to do with Lampre? Well, if the French wanted to gain a minor revenge by leaving out an Italian squad, they would be it. Damiano Cunego is unlikely to make the Tour his priority, they no longer have double stage winner Daniele Bennati, and the recent issue over being absent from their hotel when the surprise testers called won’t count in the team’s favour
Liquigas Look safe after signing Bennati, who won in Castelsarrasin and on the Champs-Elysées last year
Rabobank The Rasmussen Affair and subsequent farce that shrouded last year’s Tour was a terrible blight on the Tour. They won few friends but the sacking of the Dane and resignation of manager Theo De Rooy should ensure their position in the Tour
Saunier Duval With Riccardo Ricco focusing on the Giro, Saunier Duval could be vulnerable. The rest, such as Juan Jose Cobo and Jose Angel Gomez Marchante, are hyped but don’t do too well outside Spain
Milram If it comes down to performance in the Tour, Milram look shakiest of this lot. Erik Zabel is past it, Alessandro Petacchi will focus on the Giro and they don’t have a lot more to offer
|LIKELY WILD CARDS|
Slipstream All the signs are Jonathan Vaughters’ boys will be in. They have a strong anti-doping ethos and testing procedure and plenty of Tour pedigree in David Millar, Magnus Backstedt and David Zabriskie
Astana Better get that application for the Tour of Qinghai Lake in quick. Johan Bruyneel states that he has three of the best stage racers in the world – including the defending Tour champion Alberto Contador. But that seems to count for little inside ASO’s headquarters. ‘Astana’ is a dirty word in Paris after last year and the question is whether enough has been done to make amends
Acqua & Sapone
PICTURE The day Astana were asked to leave the 2007 Tour de France following Alexandre Vinokourov's positive dope test. Will they be invited back this year?
Prudhomme praises Breton team
Tour de France 2008: Full route and reaction