The seven wild cards for the 2018 Tour of Flanders have been announced, with Direct Energie and Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia the most notable teams to miss out on selection for the race, which takes place on April 1.
Flanders Classics announced the seven invited Pro Continental teams on Tuesday evening. The Belgian squads Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty Group-Gobert, Veranda's Willems-Crelan and WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic have been selected, together with French teams Cofidis and Vital Concept, and Dutch outfit Roompot-NL Loterij.
The wild cards will join the 18 WorldTour teams who are automatically invited to the Ronde. There will be 25 fewer riders in the Tour of Flanders peloton this year due to the UCI’s decision to reduce team sizes in the Classics from eight riders to seven.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) has announced his intention to ride the Tour of Flanders this year, along with Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), while defending champion Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) will also be on the start line in Antwerp.
Flanders Classics' decision not to invite Direct Energie and Wilier means that two previous podium finishers at the Ronde will be absent from this year's race. Direct Energie's Sylvain Chavanel was pipped to the line by Nick Nuyens in a three-up sprint in 2011, while Wilier's Filippo Pozzato lost out to Tom Boonen in similar circumstances 12 months later. Pozzato’s Wilier team has already been overlooked for a wild card for this year’s Paris-Roubaix.
Pozzato and Chavanel have remained competitive at the Tour of Flanders in recent seasons, albeit not among the top rank of contenders. In 2017, they placed 8th and 9th, respectively, in a race won by Gilbert.
Chavanel's Direct Energie teammate Lilian Calmejane expressed his disappointment at missing out on his planned Ronde debut. "The novelty on my 2018 calendar was going to be to sample the Classics for the first time, with Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders in my sights, but unfortunately we haven't been invited by the organisers," Calmejane wrote on Twitter. "Very disappointed."
Direct Energie's disappointment contrasts with the relief of the new Vital Concept squad of Bryan Coquard. Vital Concept suffered the early disappointment of missing out on invitations to the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, but have now picked up wild card slots at both the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, both surprisingly overlooked for Paris-Roubaix, continue their sequence of Tour of Flanders participations, while there is also a slot for the Veranda's Willems-Crelan squad, whose line-up will likely include cyclo-cross star Wout Van Aert, who is also planning to make his debut in Paris-Roubaix this season.
Wild card invitations to the elite men's Tour of Flanders: Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Wanty Group-Gobert, Veranda's Willems-Crelan, WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic, Cofidis, Vital Concept, Team Roompot-NL Loterij.