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Three wild card invitations up for grabs in 2014
With the route of the 2014 Tour de France now confirmed, the battle for a place at the Grand Depart in Yorkshire is underway.
An agreement between organisers ASO and the UCI means the expected 18 WorldTour teams of 2014 will automatically be given a place in the Tour de France, while several Professional Continental teams will be hoping to secure one of the expected four wild card invitations -the golden tickets to cycling biggest race.
Team Europcar will likely step up from Professional Continental ranks to the WorldTour and the demise of the French Sojasun team means only Cofidis and possibly Bretagne- Séché Environnement remain as a likely home nation candidates for two of the wild cards. That means two other places are up for grab for Professional Continental teams outside of France.
I AM Cycling, NetApp-Endura, Colombia and MTN Qhubeka are all legitimate candidates for wild card invitations, with the UnitedHealthCare team of the USA also an outsider.
All the teams had representatives at the Tour de France route presentation in Paris to begin lobbying for a place.
The Swiss IAM Cycling team missed out on a place in a Grand Tour in 2013 but is in pole position for 2014 after signing Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Pineau and Matthias Frank.
"If we're invited, we'd have a lot to do to get ready. We don’t have the winner of the Tour in our team but our guys would do everything they can to be in the action throughout the race," IAM Cycling directeur sportif Serge Beucherie told French website Cyclism’Actu.
Colombia team manager Claudio Corti was also in Paris. He is hoping to ride the wave of success by other Colombian riders in the peloton. Colombia was invited to Criterium International and Fleche Wallonne in 2013 but missed out on a place in this year's Tour de France.
MTN-Qhubeka set itself the goal of riding the 2015 Tour de France but could push for a place in 2014 as its crop of African riders mature. Team leader's Gerald Ciolek and Linus Gerdemann both have Tour de France experience.
NetApp-Endura rode the Giro d'Italia in 2012 and the Vuelta a Espana this year, with Leopold König winning a stage and finishing ninth overall. The German-based team has so-far signed Tiago Machado and young Irish sprinter Sam Bennet but lost Yorkshireman Russell Downing.
ASO traditionally announces the wild card teams in the spring with the 2013 teams announced on April 27 this year. Early success in 2014 could be vital for the wild card candidates and their attempts to convince ASO to invite them to the Tour de France.