In past years, ASO has generally waited until March to announce the teams participating in the Tour de France. This was typically done to give teams the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in race situations, allowing ASO to select the most competitive teams for participation. However, this year they elected to announce the 2011 participants yesterday, January 20th–both the timing and the selections proved unexpected.
All 18 ProTeam squads made the list, as ASO agreed to with the UCI. The remaining four teams selected from the Professional Continental ranks all had one thing in common: they were French, which ASO justified by reminding us of their support of French cycling. ASO obviously has the right to select whichever teams they want as wildcards, but where does this leave teams who expected an invitation to the world’s biggest race–foremost among them, Geox-TMC?
Geox-TMC has gotten off to a rocky start. Much like Pegasus, they were denied the Pro Team license they expected, in spite of being built from former Pro Tour team Footon-Servetto. By adding serious firepower with the signings of Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre, it seemed all but certain the team would be riding the Tour de France in July–and you can bet that was marketed to the team’s new sponsors.
That said, when Geox-TMC was not selected as a Pro Tour team based on the UCI’s sporting and additional selection criteria, rumors began to surface about dissatisfaction between the sponsors and team management. Reports indicated that the sponsors were attempting to wrest control of the team from its license holder, Mauro Gianetti, which were quickly denied, then confirmed. Throughout it all, Gianetti assured the public that things were on track, and that he was hopeful the team would receive invitations to the Grand Tours.
- Geox-TMC has yet to release a kit; its riders are training in all black, while they wait for it. A small issue to be sure, but a telling one given that its the end of January, and nearly every other team has done their full presentation – even LEOPARD TREK, who made suspense an art form.
- Public bickering goes on occasionally with team managers and riders, but its abnormal to hear this many stories about unhappy sponsors, attempts to change team managers, and general dissent within the management structure of a team this early in its existence.
- Big race freeze-outs are becoming the norm. While the big news was the Tour de France, ASO also announced that Geox wouldn’t be going to Paris-Nice. To add insult to injury, RCS announced the start list for Tirenno-Adriatico, which, you guessed it, lacked Geox. Given the laundry list of other races ASO and RCS control, what else will Geox not be invited to? There’s one ray of hope: RCS did invite the team to Milan-San Remo. Is it a guarantee they’ll be at the Giro? No, but it’s a positive sign.
- A big payroll is probably in the cards for Geox-TMC, given they have two riders who, between them, have won every Grand Tour. Reports have indicated that Sastre and Menchov combined cost in excess of 3.4 million Euro. If you’re not in the Tour de France, and there’s an open question as to whether or not you’ll be invited to other major races on the calendar, you have to wonder whether that sort of expense is worthwhile.
I think we’ll have answers regarding Geox-TMC in the near term. Giro d’Italia invites should be in the mail shortly, and the announcement that they’ll be at Milan-San Remo is a good sign. Assuming the lack of a Tour de France invite isn’t enough to cause sponsors to withdraw, getting invited to the Giro would probably allay sponsor concerns. But what happens if the Giro invite doesn’t come through? Is it possible some sponsors and/or team members have negotiated clauses in their contracts regarding Grand Tour invitations? Would failure to get in to the Tour and the Giro be enough for a rider like Menchov to seek a new home–perhaps on a team that could be looking for a replacement Tour contender, like Saxo Bank?
Overall, it’s been a turbulent start to the season for a number of teams. Hopefully we won’t lose another one–at least not yet.
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