The organisers of the Tour de France have awarded wildcard invitations to Cofidis and Wanty-Groupe Gobert, meaning that at least one of the remaining three French Professional Continental teams is set miss out on a place in this year’s race.
Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) opted to invite 23 teams to Paris-Nice when they unveiled the route and line-up on Wednesday, but race director Christian Prudhomme made it clear that only 22 teams would line up at the Tour de France in July.
Under UCI rules, all the 18 WorldTour teams are automatically invited and ASO confirmed their presence. In a surprise move, they added Cofidis and Wanty-Groupe Gobert to the list, saying the final two teams will be announced at a later date.
Cofidis and Wanty-Groupe Gobert were given the first two places because they topped the 2018 Europe Tour rankings. Under the UCI’s reforms due to be implemented in 2020, the two best-ranked teams will automatically be invited to the Grand Tours.
All the French Professional Continental teams have beefed up their rosters for 2019 in the hope of securing a wildcard invitation to the Tour de France. Direct Energie signed Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra, Arkea-Samsic have signed veteran sprinter Andre Greipel, while Vital Concept-B&B Hotels have signed Pierre Rolland and Arthur Vichot.
Now the three teams will have to impress ASO in the early races, and fight off competition from the Israel Cycling Academy, who is also chasing a place in the Tour de France and a second ride at the Giro d’Italia.
A final decision expected after Paris-Nice, with ASO’s selection strategy forcing the teams to ride aggressively in the Race to the Sun.
“Things are very complicated due to the strength of the French second division,” Prudhomme admitted to L’Equipe.
“That’s why we’ve decided to delay things. In the past we’ve revealed all the teams for the Tour de France before January 15, to give them time to prepare. This time the idea is to see how everyone performs at Paris-Nice and the other races before making a decision for the Tour.”
While Direct Energie, Arkea-Samsic and Vital Concept-B&B Hotels nervously wait for a wild card invitation to the Tour de France, Cofidis and Wanty-Groupe Gobert celebrated.
Cofidis held their team presentation in Valance, France, while veteran Wanty-Groupe Gobert team manager prepared to savour the Tour de France Grand Depart in Belgium, with stage 1 set to pass his home at the foot of the Bosberg climb. Stage 3 starts in Binche, the home to sponsor Wanty.
Wanty-Groupe Gobert hope that French climber Guillaume Martin can step up further in 2019 and show his Grand Tour potential.
"This third invitation proves that we have not stolen our place in the Tour de France for the past two years,” Martin said.
"I still feel that I have not been able to leave 100 per cent of my mark on the Tour of 2018. Although my first participation was satisfying, many details have messed up my plans last year. I came close to the white jersey but could never wear it.
"The 2019 edition should suit me, it is similar to the one of 2017. I already looked at it, but with the announcement of this invitation I will certainly study more thoroughly in the upcoming days and weeks. Long live the summer."
The 2019 Tour de France starts in Brussels on Saturday, July 6, and ends three weeks later in Paris on July 28.