Joy and despair. Riders selected for the Tour de France face three weeks of ferocious racing, and the worst examples of French hotel keeping. Riders who failed to make the cut might enjoy the towering scenery of Austria, by contrast, or even a mid-season break. There are few worse fates than spending nearly a month as a guest of a budget French hotel. Console yourself, Marcel. Brace yourself, Vincenzo.
By now the full list of riders engaged for La Grande Boucle is known. The form of the pre-race favourites has been analysed to dust, lists of contenders for the maillot à pois drawn and re-drawn, and each member of a slowly gathering army of young French talent metaphorically measured for the white jersey.
Who among us, however, has weighed the familial strife caused by Lotto-Soudal’s selection of Jens Debuscherre, and omission of brother-in-law Jurgen Roelandts? Poor Jurgen spent much of the Spring rueing near misses and described last Sunday’s runner-up spot at the Belgian championship as the most disappointing result of his career. Now, he must turn on the television each evening for three weeks to watch Debuscherre, who has more than an outside chance of a stage victory. Don’t mention the Tour.
Pity too this Tour’s forgotten Grand Tour winners. The Fab Four’s prior accomplishments have been loudly trumpeted (Contador has at least seven; like the Spaniard, Nibali has won all three. Froome and Quintana are tied on one a piece) but who is talking seriously of the prospects for 2012 Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal? Michele Scarponi’s inherited victory at the 2011 corsa rosa is overlooked entirely, and even Basso’s brace.
Even for riders bathed in the media’s spotlight, the Tour will not be plain sailing. Mark Cavendish cut ties with Sky to seek out dedicated support for his sprinting ambitions, but less than half of the Etixx-QuickStep Tour line-up might be described as such. Mark Renshaw is perhaps the only member of Cavendish’s lead-out train who would gain employment in a similar role elsewhere. Tony Martin played the part at HTC, but surely has bigger fish to fry these days. The greater part of the nine-man EQS squad seems dedicated to the needs of Uran.
Patrick Lefevre’s disappointment from spring appears still to be simmering. Many of his Classics flops will be left at home for the biggest engagement of the summer, despite the cobbled fourth stage. There is no place for newly-crowned Dutch champion Niki Terpstra, or the man who appeared to chase him down at Het Nieuwsblad, Stijn Vandenbergh. Tom Boonen rode the Giro, leaving only Zdenek Stybar selected from the Belgian heavyweight’s Classics A-list.
Two second places from the three races of Ardennes Week have not been enough to secure a place either for Julian Alaphilippe, who might have fancied a return match with Alejandro Valverde on the Mur de Huy. Only victory is enough for Lefevere. Amstel Gold winner Michal Kwiatkowski will lead Etixx-Quick-Step’s assault on stage three. Having seen off Philippe Gilbert on the Cauberg in Spring, the world champion might have felt confident of beating him on the Huy as well, but Fast Phil will not be present for a ramp that might have been included solely for his benefit.
There are plenty who will start in Utrecht well aware of what awaits. Matteo Tosatto, at 41, the grand old man of the Grand Départ, will roll out for his 32nd Grand Tour and eleventh Tour de France. Adam Hansen will ride his twelfth consecutive Grand Tour. A domestique’s work is never done.
Grand Tour winners are necessarily fewer in number than the men who helped them, and the peloton for this year’s Tour is littered with those who have previously sacrificed themselves on the altar of another man’s ambition.
MTN-Qhubeka exile Edvald Boasson Hagen will lead a Tour team at last, having ridden in support of Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour (so too did Cavendish – to a degree – and Uran, now joint leaders at Etixx-QuickStep). Boasson Hagen served Froome the following year too, alongside half of Sky’s roster for this Tour: Richie Porte, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, and Geraint Thomas.
Steve Morabito will serve Thibaut Pinot at FDJ, having ridden in support of Cadel Evans in 2011. Manuel Quinziato has remained at BMC Racing and will ride this year for Tejay Van Garderen, having been part of Evans’ victorious squad four years ago.
Jakob Fuglsang was Nibali’s right hand man at last year’s Tour, and is one of six others called up in hope of a repeat victory for the Shark of Messina. Scarponi, Dimitri Gruzdev and Tanel Kangert will do duty again in France, and were all part of Nibali’s team for his win at the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
There is no room for sentiment at the Tour, but there is for patriotism, it seems, at least among the home teams. The French are well represented in their own race, both in the number of teams (five) and riders (40). Unsurprisingly, there is a degree of cross-fertilisation: the greatest preponderance of French talent occurs on the rosters of the French teams. Just three home riders will race for foreign teams: Warren Barguil for Giant-Alpecin, Tony Gallopin for Lotto-Soudal, and 142 for IAM Cycling.
Europcar lead the way, with an all-French squad headed by Thomas Voeckler, while the Swiss Steve Morabito is the only non-French member of FDJ.fr. Bretagne-Séché Environnement, racing on a wildcard invitation, have entered into the spirit of things by fielding eight French riders in their nine-man squad. Ag2r and Cofidis, for example, appear positively unpatriotic with a rider head count only two-thirds French.
Raise a hearty cry, then, of Vive la France! for those selected for the Tour, and perhaps even a chorus of je ne regrette rien for those overlooked. July is the cruellest month for the professional cyclist, whether selected or not.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH, UH HUH
14,000 gendarmes (including riot police) – Liberté, égalité, fraternité!
2,000 journalists – (don’t) stop the press
198 riders – abandon hope, all ye who enter here
A year already?
Tears of a clown
“The Tour de France doesn’t begin and end in Yorkshire.” Oh, the irony