July isn't too far away, is it? It is certainly close enough to start dreaming about what le Tour will be like, especially now that the ASO has announced its wildcard picks for Paris-Nice, the Critérium Dauphiné, and the Tour de France. And we can certainly daydream about hot July days as the polar vortex slowly withdraws from holding some of us in its icy clutches.
Like the organizers of the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espańa, the ASO has a history of giving strong preference to national teams and this year is no exception. In the past, this guaranteed Europcar a spot in the foremost French World Tour races even though they were only a Pro Continental team. But now that Europcar has upgraded to a World Tour license, they receive automatic invites and this opens up the door for newer teams to come in.
The more notable of the wildcard invitations are IAM Cycling and NetApp-Endura, both of whom will be at the Tour for the first time. IAM is the new kid on the block, getting its first grand tour invitation as it enters its second year of existence. NetApp has made it to the Giro and the Vuelta before, but this is its first year at the Tour despite prior attempts to get an invitation. Leopold Konig's 9th place overall in last year's Vuelta certainly bolstered their case and will be expected to perform again in July.
As for the other teams invited to the Tour, Cofidis is back because, well, Cofidis. How much more French can you get? The team is guaranteed to get plenty of TV time for their sponsors by working the early breaks - all of them - but aside from that, little can be really expected of them. Really, it's a shame David Moncoutie is retired because he'd at least be fun to watch. More excitement can come from the decision to invite Bretagne-Séché to the Tour for the first time. Though often thought of as another French team destined only to ply their trade in the early breakaways, they have picked up Brice and Romain Feillu, the former of which has won a Tour stage before.
The big loser in all of this is MTN-Qhubeka, the team of 2013 Milan - SanRemo winner Gerald Ciolek that is still searching for an invitation to a Grand Tour. An invite could do wonders for the team, especially if they used it as an opportunity to race - and develop - some of their African riders.
Though the Tour has room for four wildcard invitations, Paris-Nice and the Critérium Dauphiné are only allowed three. IAM and Cofidis will be at both races while Bretagne-Séché will be at Paris-Nice and NetApp at the Dauphiné.