All French, All The Time: Tour de France Wildcards Announced

Europcar, Sojasun, and Cofidis are certain to feature in breakaways in this year's Tour de France. - Doug Pensinger

The ASO, organizer of the Tour de France, released the list of wildcard invitations to the Tour today, picking Cofidis, Europcar, and Sojasun to join the 19 World Tour teams in the Grand Boucle. The teams selected provide an definitive French flair to the race, especially after the surprising exclusion of IAM Cycling from this year's Tour.

Back when the UCI was forced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to let Katusha back into the World Tour, we speculated on how races might adapt to the new reality of 19, rather than 18, teams in the World Tour. Would we see more riders in races, perhaps with teams of 8 instead of 9 in the grand tours? Or, would the ASO decrease its wildcard invitations by one?

Early in the year, the ASO announced that it would keep the size of the Tour peloton constant, reducing its wildcard invitations to three non-World Tour teams. But which would they be? The ASO has tended to lean towards the French pro continental teams, inviting some combination of FDJ, Cofidis, Europcar, and Sojasun in recent history in an attempt to give homegrown teams a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all. FDJ has been a World Tour team for the last two years, giving them an automatic invitation and allowing one non-French wildcard to get entry. With one less spot up for grabs, would it be possible for a non-French team to make the cut?

With both Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland on Europcar, their invitation was never in doubt, and nor was Cofidis' attendance with French hope Jerome Coppel and veteran Christophe Le Mevel on the team this year. Instead, the battle for the final invitation seemed to narrow down to Sojasun and IAM Cycling. The latter has a deeper team, especially after Sojasun lost Jerome Coppel to Cofidis in the offseason, but the importance of being French is hard to deny.

IAM, the new professional continental team based in Switzerland and home to such notable riders as Thomas Löfkvist and Heinrich Haussler, was a strong candidate and focused on making the Tour de France a highlight of their season. The team raced Paris-Nice, an ASO race, rather than Tirreno - Adriatico in hopes of impressing the organizers. But, after Löfkvist's victory in the Tour de Mediterranean and few promising showings in the spring classics aside from being present in almost every breakaway, results sputtered.

Perhaps this is why the ASO went with the lesser known riders on Sojasun over IAM. Better, in the eyes of the ASO and French fans, to choose a French team that will inevitably put riders in almost every breakaway and enliven the race with talent from home rather than gamble on IAM keeping riders - and aggression - in reserve to work for Lövkvist and Haussler.

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