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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
Tour de France news for May 2, 2002
Edited by Jeff Jones
Tour de France team selection
Five or six? French or foreign?
The Societe du Tour de France will name the final wild card team selections tomorrow (May 2) for this year's Tour de France. The STF may name between five and six teams to make a total of 21 or 22 in the race: many observers believe that they will opt for the smaller number this year, in line with conventional regulations. As always, there are far more candidates than places, and the selection will certainly not please everyone.
The 16 pre-qualified teams are as follows: Mapei-Quick Step, Fassa Bortolo, Alessio, Tacconi Sport, Lampre-Daikin (all Italy), Lotto-Adecco, Domo-Farm Frites (Belgium), Rabobank (Netherlands), ibanesto.com, Euskaltel-Euskadi, ONCE, Kelme (Spain), Cofidis (France), Telekom (Germany), US Postal (USA) and CSC-Tiscali (Denmark).
The 13 remaining teams competing for a spot are as follows: Team Coast (Casero), Gerolsteiner (Rebellin), Acqua e Sapone (Cipollini), Saeco-Longoni Sport (Simoni), Mercatone Uno (Pantani), Française des Jeux (Casar), Ag2r (Kirsipuu), Bonjour (Rous), BigMat (Heulot), Crédit Agricole (Moreau), Jean Delatour (Brochard), St Quentin-Oktos (Rinero), and Phonak (Camenzind)
There are seven French teams who are vying for a spot, with Credit Agricole and Bonjour almost certain to get in. In addition, the organisers have to ensure that there are at least 30 French riders in the Tour - a long standing rule imposed by Jean-Marie Leblanc. Given that Cofidis and Credit Agricole have a lot of foreign riders in their ranks, it means that the numbers will have to be filled by French teams. To be on the safe side, that means another two French teams will make the cut, probably Française des Jeux and Ag2r.
That leaves Jean-Delatour, BigMat and St-Quentin struggling for a spot against the stronger foreign teams, with Saeco and Team Coast the favourites. If five teams are selected, then only one of these teams will make it, most likely Saeco. And in the unlikely event that Marco Pantani finds his legs again in the Giro, the organisers may opt to give a sixth wild card to Mercatone Uno...later. It's a possibility, according to Cyclingnews sources.
Once again, if Jean Delatour and/or BigMat miss out, then their sponsors will more than likely end their involvement at the end of the season. Supposedly, teams are meant to earn their selection, however politics plays a big role.
Tour de France selection: the final five teams
The organisers of the Tour de France have named five wild card teams to take part in this year's edition, which starts in Luxembourg on July 6. In keeping with tradition, four of the five are French teams: Crédit Agricole, Bonjour, Ag2r, and Française des Jeux. The fifth spot went to Saeco-Longoni Sport.
With such a limited number of positions available, the final team selection was always going to be contentious. Unlike last year, Jean-Marie Leblanc did not opt to award an extra spot, which would have made 22 nine man teams. This year's Tour de France peloton will be the 'standard' 189 riders from 21 teams.
From a French perspective, the two biggest losers were BigMat and Jean-Delatour, neither of which have performed well early this season, although BigMat waved the flag in Paris-Roubaix. Jean-Delatour's director Michel Gros admitted his team's poor early season performance probably cost them the position.
"The selection is not illogical. We knew the rules of the game. It is hard for the sponsor and the riders but it was imperative to have a good start to the season. We have failed in this respect compared to the last two years where we had excellent results. Certain riders have gone to sleep on their laurels but we are all partly responsible."
However, all is not necessarily lost for Jean Delatour: "A lot have been obsessed with the Tour de France. Now it is a question of keeping the team in the first division. That is another challenge and after that, the sponsor will decide what action to take."
BigMat's director Stéphane Javalet was not as philosophical, saying "I am not in complete agreement with the choices of the organisers. We had in place objectives that related to Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix. Each time, we were there. But that is too quickly forgotten. There is a big chance now that this will mean the end of BigMat. But it is advisable to take a step back and analyse things."
From a foreign point of view, the biggest teams to miss out were Acqua e Sapone, Team Coast, Gerolsteiner, Mercatone Uno and Phonak. Once again, fans will not be able to see Mario Cipollini (Acqua e Sapone) in action during the Tour's mass sprints, which many feel is a shame as Cipollini is still one of the world's top sprinters.
As for Mercatone Uno, their key rider Marco Pantani has not been in form for the best part of two years. Despite having won the Tour in 1998, Pantani has not shown any signs of his former brilliant climbing prowess, and the organisers were loth to take a chance on a potential non-performer.
"It was impossible to select Mercatone on what Pantani's shown this season," said Leblanc. "If he were to win the Giro d'Italia, though, we'd try to add a 22nd team."
That's a big ask for Pantani, going on current form, and it looks as though he too will miss the Tour again.
The 21 selected teams for the Tour de France are as follows:
Mapei-Quick Step (Italy)