The Tour de France today announced the 22 teams, who will contest the race this year. Like the Giro d'Italia, the Tour followed the 2008 agreement with the UCI that required them to invite the 16 Pro Tour teams. This list includes all the teams you know: Milram, Cofidis, Français des Jeux, Robabank, well, you get the idea. The only surprise among the "automatic teams" is Footon-Servetto. Remember last year? Last year, the Tour excluded Footon-Servetto on the grounds that the team, who had doping skeletons stashed in its Saunier-Duval closet, would damage the image of the race. The sports arbitration court upheld that exclusion. Excluded no more, Footon-Servetto rides the Tour this year.
It's a great year to be an American team. Four American teams will race this year's Tour de France: HTC-Columbia received an automatic invite, while Garmin-Transitions, BMC Racing Team, and Team RadioShack all received coveted wild cards. There are no real surprises here. Garmin has been "in" with the Tour de France since the team began and brings a former fourth place finisher in Christian Vandevelde to the party. Team RadioShack has that Lance Armstrong guy. 'nuff said. BMC boasts the current World Champion, Cadel Evans, and the former World Champion Alessandro Ballan. Evans has finished consistently on the podium and has a couple of stage wins to his credit. Indeed, Christian Prudhomme, the race director, told l'Equipe that the transfer of Cadel Evans to BMC ensured their invitation and "complicated" the chances of the remaining teams.
The Dutch hosts of the Tour de France départ will have to be content to cheer on Rabobank. Vacansoleil, best known for sprinter Borut Bozic and the scrappy stage hunter Johnny Hoogerland, did not get an invitation this year. The decision must come as a special disappointment to Vacansoleil after they hired the two French riders, Brice and Romain Feillu. Brice Feillu won a mountain stage last year, while Romain Feillu is a past Yellow Jersey wearer. Better luck next time, eh? Skil-Shimano will also watch the Tour de France from the sidelines. Though they are adept at the stage-chasing and animating role of a small team, Skil-Shimano fell victim to the expansion of teams at the top end.
Team Sky, Katusha, and Cervélo TestTeam complete the the wildcard list. None of these teams offers much in the way of a surprise. Sky has last year's fourth place finisher Bradley Wiggins, a former stage winner in Simon Gerrans, and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Also, they have lots of other talented riders. No brainer decision. Cervélo TestTeam brings Thor Hushovd, former Green Jersey, and Carlos Sastre, former Tour winner. Sastre's July plans remain unclear, he has said he will decide about the Tour after the Giro. Even without Sastre, Cervélo has plenty to offer the July party. Katusha? They're good for the stage-chasing, and they have Pozzato's hair. It's all about the hair.
Next season, the top 17 teams in the world rankings will automatically receive invitations to the grand tours. The race organizers will pick the remainning six teams. That should be fun. No doubt there will be tears.
Here's the full list of invited teams from the official Tour site.