Greetings! Every year, in the cloakroom of the Podium Cafe Club (Members Only), I meet with my co-Editors Jens and Douglas to essentially divide up the world. Former Editor-for-life Gavia and I used to call this our Treaty of Tordesillas moment. It's great fun, and everyone should try it, albeit in some way where it isn't taken seriously enough to result in violence or accusations of treason. Anyway, we did it again this year, and I get France! Zut! Alors! Sacre bleu! Cinq minutes pour s'etre battu! To celebrate this arrangement I will occasionally lapse into my stores of random French expletives. As the owner of a few French-language Tintins, my stores are in fine shape, thank you. Cercopithèque!
Anyway, while some of you may be counting the days until the FSA Directeur Sportif begins (maybe 5) or the start of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (definitely 30), I shall look on the horizon to the great French races, in particular the Tour de France, to which all else is but a prologue. And with that, it's time to take a seat at the Grand Boucle Desk.
Unfortunately, nothing is really happening except for the team invitations, so let's take a look at the Tour de France Wildcards.
A Look at the Tour de France Wildcards
Prime Directive: Attention-seeking behavior
Key Riders: Armindo Fonseca, a nice all-round guy who pocketed a couple nice wins last year; the Feillus, at least one of whom (Romain) can sprint; Anthony Delaplace, who will hang around on the climbs. That's about it.
Early Notes: The Bretons were kings of the long, pointless breakaway at last year's Tour, logging some 1600km (their numbers) with a nose in the wind or close to it. Alessandro De Marchi managed to usurp the final Combativity Prize from their grasp, because that's what those evil World Tour teams do to torture the well-meaning Pro-Conti outfits. Nevertheless, Bretagne-Seche made it to Paris with its entire team intact, qualifying it for a Dignity Award or some other way to recognize that effort as honoring the race. Which it is. And which is why they were a shoo-in for a second invitation.
Prime Directive: Quietly stalking the GC
Key Riders: Dominik Nerz, late of BMC and a budding GC-type; Daniel Schorn, sprinterly type; Jan Barta, versatile strongman with a shot at a time trial stage win; Sam Bennett, possibly awesome sprinter.
Early Notes: Also a returnee, having started last year's Tour as Team NetApp-Endura. Gone from the squad is Leopold Konig, who finished seventh in the Tour de France. Sky poached him to be next man up after whatever disaster awaits on the cobbles. Nerz has a couple Vuelta top-20s, FWIW. Bennett is one of those guys Ursula wishes I didn't mention.
Prime Directive: Acting like they belong, by which I mean it wouldn't have been the Tour without them.
Key Riders: Lots... Pierre Rolland, three times in the top 11 in Paris; Cyrtil Gautier, all-round(ish) climber and stage hunter; Bryan Coquard, sprinter, coming up fast on the outside; Tommy Voeckler, team mascot and stage hunter.
Early Notes: Voeckler is getting pretty long in the tooth, so maybe he's more of a decoy now. Coquard is getting good, quickly, at age 22. The other guys... whatever. But Coquard!
Prime Directive: Trend-setting.
Key Riders: Reinhart Janse van Rensberg, stage hunter; Tyler Farrar, veteran sprinter; Matt Goss, sprinter; Gerald Ciolek, sprinter (are you sensing a theme?); Edvald Boasson Hagen, stage hunter who can sprint; Steve Cummings, sprinter (OK, not really); Theo Bos, sprinter and bike sumoist.
Early Notes: The first true African team to start the Tour! Actually the 1950 Tour de France included a national team made up of North Africans (Algerians and Moroccans), which was carved out of the various French "national" teams. So if you want to get super-technical about it, there's been some semblance of an African team before. But not one anything like this. As to who mixes it up in the sprints of Le Tour, it remains to be seen. The wild card is new, so I'm not sure they've announced the various schedules. My guess is they send Bos, Boasson Hagen, and Ciolek.
Prime Directive: Just win baby.
Key Riders: Nacer Bouhanni. Others too, but this is really all.
Early Notes: Or that's my guess anyway... what's the point in helping Luis Angel Mate improve on his 40th place?
Oh, one other note: Marc Madiot made a little news by declaring that FDJ could win the Tour in 4-5 years, a headline that could be taken as a sign of faith in/overwhelming pressure on Thibaut Pinot, but if you read what he said it's a bit more interesting than that. The FDJ manager, God of the Cobbles, and member of the French Legion of Honor opined that French teams had no shot for years, thanks to doping, but now they do. It's Morning in French Cycling! Or that's the hope anyway.