The Teams – Part 1
As I stated in an earlier post, there are 22 teams competing in the Tour de France, 18 Pro Tour teams and 4 wild card invites. Each team has its own personality and objectives. Sometimes the personalities on the teams don’t mesh, and that creates its own interesting dynamic.
The Wild Cards
Cofidis – The long-running French team came on to the scene with a big splash in 1996, signing then World Champion Lance Armstrong. Cofidis was a fixture on the highest level of professional cycling until 2009 when the International Cycling Union dropped the team to the second tier due to poor results. Despite not being a Pro Tour team, Cofidis receives an invitation every year from the organization that runs the Tour. Being that it is one of the largest and most successful French squads, that makes sense. This year, Cofidis has Nacer Bouhanni, a feisty sprinter, as its leader. Don’t worry, though, Cofidis will be very active in the daily breaks, despite having a team goal for the sprints.
Direct Energie – One of the older teams in the peloton, Direct Energie was originally formed in 1984, disbanded in 1985, and reformed in 1986. In 1989, the team had a different sponsor, System U, and was the team of eventual Tour runner-up Laurent Fignon (remember, Greg Lemond beat him in the time trial on the final stage that year). Since then, the team has gone through a number of sponsor changes and was demoted with Cofidis to the second tier in 2009 for lackluster results. While the team has struggled to produce consistent results, it has not failed to produce characters. French rider Thomas Voeckler has worn the yellow jersey in the tour for 20 days and won multiple stages. He has done so with the panache and flair that one could only imagine in a novel about a stereotypical French athlete. Voeckler knows how to suffer, and he lets everyone know, sticking out his tongue and grimacing like he is being tortured. Once Voeckler gets the scent of a possible stage win or grabs hold of a leader’s jersey, you almost have to kill him to take it away.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert – This Belgian team formed in 2008 and is riding in its first Tour this year. In fact, all nine riders are debutantes to the tour (meaning first-timers). Wanty has entered this year’s Tour with no ambitions other than animating the race. Sure, a stage win would be fantastic, but the team just wants to show the organizers that the invitation was well-earned. Expect to see Wanty riders in the break almost every day.
Fortuneo-Oscaro – The last Wild Card team is also a French team, and it has participated in the Tour since 2015. Fortuneo is almost all French with the lone exception of Argentine Eduardo Sepulveda. Like Wanty, Fortuneo has one mission, getting into the day’s break and hoping for a stage win. Unlink some teams targeting specific stages for the win, Fortuneo is just going to throw the stuff up against the wall every stage to see what sticks. Expect those not in the break to go out the back of the peloton the minute the mountains kick upward.
Pro Tour Teams
AG2R La Mondiale – One of our two Pro Tour French teams, AG2R joined the Pro Tour in 2006 after 14 years as a second tier team. Since then, AG2R has remained a scrappy team that has struggled to transform the determination into success. In 2014, the team had a strong showing at the Tour with veteran Christophe Peraud taking second place and a young Romain Bardet bursting onto the world stage as a future contender. Since then, though, results have been mixed due to crashes and inconsistent performances coupled with flashes of brilliance. This year in the Criterium du Dauphine, Bardet showed that he is a true contender and ready to assert himself as a team leader. Expect Bardet to lose time in the time trials and to create havoc on the big climbs. He is aggressive and already shown that he is not holding back through the first five stages.
Astana – Named after the capital of Kazakhstan, this team formed in 2007 and spent the first six years mired in scandals. Controversial General Manager Alexander Vinokourov rode for the team until he was banned for doping that first year and later returned in 2009. That lead to the departure of a number of riders, and the team was on the verge of losing its UCI license. By 2013, things settled down, though, and 2014 proved to be the year that Astana made it. Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali dominated that year’s tour and solidified the team as a perennial contender. Nibali has since left the team, switching to Bahrain-Merida, but another Italian Fabio Aru and Danish rider Jakob Fuglslang are now leading the charge. Aru is the designated leader of the team, but Fuglslang has his own ambitions. It remains to be seen how things will play out, but Aru may have cemented his role as the chosen one with his daring attack and win on stage 5. Aru likes to attack. He would rather attack to win and risk losing than sit on and hope to take a few seconds here and there. He likes to take chunks of time, which means that we could be in for a lot of excitement if Movistar, BMC, and Sky cannot keep the pace high enough to prevent Aru from attacking.
Bahrain-Merida – Founded in 2017 and organized around 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain-Merida is one of those rare teams that immediately started at the Pro Tour level. Despite being the foundation of the team, Nibali elected to focus on the Giro d’Italia this year rather than the Tour, and Ion (pronounced John) Izagirre from Spain was designated the team leader. Izagirre formerly raced for Movistar and proved himself a strong GC rider. Unfortunately for Bahrain-Merida and Izagirre, he crashed out of the Tour on Stage 1 during the wet time trial. Now the team is working to get stage wins with sprinter Sonny Colbrelli and a good placing for GC contender Janez Brajkovic. However, both riders are really second tier in their respective categories right now, so the opportunities have have left with Izagirre. Brajkovic, though, could be a threat from a breakaway in the mountains. If he tries to compete for the GC, though, he will likely struggle to make the top ten.
BMC Racing Team – Founded in 2007, the US-based team made it to the Pro Tour in 2011 and won the team’s first Tour de France with Australian Cadel Evans. Since then, the team has had a few good showings at the Tour but has not been able to get back on to the GC podium. In 2015, the team signed Australian Richie Porte away from Team Sky, where he served as a top lieutenant for Chris Froome during two of his Tour victories. Porte may be on the best form of his life and even the best of the top GC contenders as we head to the end of the first week. However, Porte has not been able to put together a complete three-week Grand Tour without having some sort of problem or bad day. At the Criterium du Dauphine in early June, Porte showed his strength, but he was unable to close out the GC win, losing to Astana’s Jakob Fuglslang on the last mountain stage. Porte’s team lacked the strength to help him cover attacks and bring him back to the small leader’s group. If Porte is going to have a chance at the Tour this year, his team is going to have to step up, and Porte will have to avoid that GC-hope crushing bad day or mistake.
Bora-Hansgrohe – The German-based team came into this year’s Tour with a lot of confidence. Being the team of two-time (back-to-back) World Champion and five-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan, Bora-Hansgrohe counting the green jersey as in the bag. In addition to Sagan, the team also has two-time mountains classification winner Rafal Majka. With any luck, Bora dreamed of leaving the tour with two jerseys. What a great way to begin the Pro Tour era of the team! Sagan bagged his first win on Stage 3 and second place on Stage 5, moving him to within striking distance of the green jersey, and Sagan does not easily relinquish that jersey. But wait, an incident in the finale of Stage 5 found Peter Sagan disqualified from the race! Suddenly, the major ambition of the team is gone. With Fabio Aru’s win on Stage 4, he has a firm grip on the mountains classification. Majka will have to decide whether he wants to fight for a top ten on the GC or try to win the polkadot jersey because it does not look like both options are on the table. If Majka focuses on the jersey, look for him to start lighting up the mountain stages this weekend and throughout the second week.
Cannondale-Drapac – This is the one of the teams with the most character. Originally founded in 2003, the team raced exclusively in the US for the first few years of existence. Over the years, the team has changed names numerous times and merged with a few other teams. Somehow, though, the team has been able to maintain the image of being full of a bunch of lovable oddballs. This year, the team heads into the tour with some GC ambitions with Colombian Rigoberto Uran and American Andrew Talansky, but it will really focus on hunting individual stages, primarily with Frenchman Pierre Roland and American Taylor Phinney. Actually, it’s not fair to label those two as the primary stage chasers. Besides Talansky and Uran, expect to see any of the riders from this team on the attack, trying to get into the break. This is an audacious team with an “F it” attitude. Cannondale may not get too many wins this year, but they will make it exciting. Through the first six road stages, the team has had a rider in the break for four of them.
That’s it for today, stay tuned for the rest of the team overviews this weekend.