Six of the seven available wildcards for the Tour of Flanders were announced today, with a seventh invite awaiting one last team who catches the organizers' eye in early spring. Three Belgian teams make up the roster, for the same reason every national tour includes in-house teams. Also, they tend to be good at the cobbles. No real controversy among the invited:
- Topsport Vlaanderen: Practically an automatic entry, as they are the government-supported Flemish cycling development squad, and they hold their own throughout the classics. Not sure who their main antagonist is right now though.
- Landbouwkrediet: Reports of the team's demise prove exaggerated, as Euphony, a phone company, step in to patch up their finances. Removing the stench of death from this Belgian team leaves de Ronde little reason to keep them out. Bobby Traksel is one name that sounds logical here, but Bert Scheirlinckx, their top finisher last year, has moved on.
- Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas: Another practically automatic entry, but these guys are in on quality alone. Leif Hoste is a three time, um, podium finisher. Staf Scheirlinckx was eighth last year. Not the most exciting squad, for lack of any real youth, but they are more than competent enough.
- Europcar: Thomas Voeckler is a good rider for this kind of course, depending on how he feels about the cobbles. Not too bad, I'd think, given his 28th place last year (the peloton led home by Tyler Farrar). He didn't used to do the race but last year marked his second straight appearance, so maybe he's interested? If he was, well, I'd be too.
- Project 1t4i: The former Skil-Shimano get in on quality alone (Dutchness doesn't cut it). I'm not sure who draws interest here on the basis of past performance, but Kittel and Degenkolb will draw plenty of curiosity-based invites this year.
- Farnese Vini-Selle Italia: Pippo Pozzato. That's all you need to know. Leaving them home would be like Wimbledon barring McEnroe in his prime. Nobody likes him, but everyone wants him there.
If anyone has the final list of wildcard applicants, so we can parse through the contenders for the remaining spot (I know NetApp are one of them), please post in comments. Thanks!