By Shane Stokes
With Friday's shock news of the collapse of Giancarlo Ferretti's planned team for 2006, the French Ag2R Prévoyance squad are now the sole candidate for the 20th and final ProTour license up for grabs. Prior to this week there had been three candidates for the slot: Lavenu's France Cyclisme (Ag2R Prévoyance), Ferretti's Silver Team S.r.l and the GD Comunidad Valenciana. Each of these was due to submit their application on October 20, after which the independent ProTour commission would announce on December 12 which of the three was the most worthy.
Cyclingnews spoke to Alain Rumpf on Thursday, the ProTour manager revealing that one of the three had fallen by the wayside. "We were informed a couple of days ago that Comunidad Valenciana have withdrawn their application. Basically, they said that they realised that they would not be able to present an application that is of the level of the UCI ProTour. Therefore they decided to register as a professional continental team next year."
24 hours later, a surprised Rumpf found himself speaking of the demise of another application, Giancarlo Ferretti's proposed multimillion pound supersquad. This was expected to be backed by Sony Ericsson and to feature proven winners such as double Tour of Italy champion Gilberto Simoni and former Tour de France stage victor Stuart O'Grady. However, in a development which echoes the demise of the Linda McCartney squad nearly five years ago, it emerged that the supposed sponsors had no intentions of backing a team.
"I am very surprised by today's news," Rumpf told Cyclingnews early on Friday. "I was on my way to Como and the Tour of Lombardy, bought La Gazzetta and I read the news there. I haven't spoken to anyone about it yet so I have no other reaction than that: big surprise.
"We had not yet got any documentation from any of the teams because it is too early. They had until next week to send documentation and until the 20th of November to complete it. Until yesterday, Ferretti seemed to be on an equal footing with the other candidate."
With Comunidad Valenciana and Ferretti's Silver Team S.r.l now out of the picture, Vincent Lavenu's Ag2R Prévoyance squad seem to have a clear run at taking a place in the ProTour, one year after they were denied the license. However, their place in the top echelon of cycling is not yet guaranteed. "I am not a specialist of the regulations but from what I understand, when there is one applicant that candidate must still show that their candidature is valid," Rumpf explained. "The license commission will not give that license automatically; they [the team] must still submit their application and meet the necessary requirements.
"It is up to the commission. I don't want to give the impression that Ag2R is going to get the license automatically. But equally I do not want to give the impression that there may only be 19 teams next year. It is up to the license commission, they can freely decide."
Affected perhaps by the loss of Jaan Kirsipuu and Laurent Brochard, Ag2R were unable to convince the commission last year that they were worthy of a place. However, Vincent Lavenu will be hoping that things will be different this time round. The French squad has an increased budget for 2006 and has made some big name signings for next year. The Spaniard Francisco Mancebo and Frenchman Christophe Moreau finished fourth and eleventh overall in the Tour de France this summer and their signings show that the team has some big hitters for the coming season.