Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has explained why he has awarded wild card invitations to MTN-Qhubeka, Bretagne-Séché, Cofidis, Europcar and Bora-Argon 18 for this year's race, confirming ASO's strategy of supporting French teams but also help promote cycling in Africa and Germany.
In 2008 the Barloworld team was sponsored by a South African company and included Chris Froome but was technically registered in Britain and based in Italy. As result, Prudhomme believes will make history in 2015.
"It's the first time in history of the Tour that an African team has been selected," Prudhoome pointed out to the L'Equipe newspaper when asked about MTN-Qhubeka and the wild card invitations.
"The team has Eritrian rider Natnael Berhane, who won the 2013 Tour of Turkey. Bernard Hinault saw him and other young Eritrean riders a few years ago at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon and when he got back he said "They remind me of the Colombian riders in the eighties but must be given time to mature. When they are ready, they will hurt!" Moreover, this team has recruited experienced riders like Boasson-Hagen, Bos, Farrar and it has a real nice cycling development project in Africa."
ASO recently signed a new broadcasting deal with German state television ARD, securing free to air viewing of the Tour in Germany in 2015 and 2016, after a three-year absence caused by the doping scandals that hit cycling in Germany. Prudhomme visited the team's base near Munich last December and clearly liked what he saw.
"This team has a new German sponsor. It's leader (in 2014, but now part of Team Sky) Leopold König finished in the top 10. Bora-Argon 18 has Dominik Nerz in its new line-up, who is a very promising young rider from BMC. He's 25 and was 18th at the Vuelta a Espana while working for his then team leader Cadel Evans," Prudhomme said.
"I went to see this team in December, in Bavaria. The German media believe he has a lot of potential. The team also has Czech rider [Jan] Barta, who finished third in the time trial at the 2014 Tour de France."
Support for Bretagne-Séché, Cofidis and Europcar
Prudhomme explained that the selection of Bretagne-Séché, Cofidis, Europcar teams were logical because this year's race visits Brittany, the home of he Bretagne-Séché squad, and because Cofidis has signed sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, while Europcar remains a strong team despite not obtaining WorldTour status due to lack of funding.
"Europcar is no longer in the WorldTour but the idea of not selecting this team never crossed our minds," Prudhomme said.
"Pierre Rolland was 11th last year, after finishing fourth in the Giro d'Italia. That means something. His performance went a little unnoticed in the media because there were three French riders (Peraud, Pinot and Bardet) ahead of him. In 2011, he won the stage to Alpe d'Huez, which is at the end of this year's Tour and so will be even more crucial than in previous years. Europcar also has Thomas Voeckler, Romain Sicard and Bryan Coquard, another French sprinter."
"The name that stands out (at Cofidis) is of course, that of Nacer Bouhanni. We'll be very happy to see him go up against the best sprinters in the world, such as Kittel, Cavendish, Greipel, and see him face (Arnaud) Démare at the Tour."
"Bretagne-Séché Environnement was given a chance in 2014 and took it. We appreciated that they went on the attack every day and ended the Tour with nine riders. It has strengthened its squad this winter with (four time Tour stage winner) Pierrick Fedrigo as road captain. Jonathan Hivert also arrived in the team, while Eduardo Sepulveda is a Argentinian climber who wasn't able to ride last year because he was sick. There's always Brice Feillu who was the fifth best French rider in the 2014 Tour."
ASO also announced the teams for Paris-Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné, with 20 teams being invited to the March stage race and 21 teams invited to the June race. MTN-Qhubeka and Bora-Argon 18 missed out on an invitation to Paris-Nice, perhaps increasing their chances for Milan-San Remo. They were invited to the Critérium du Dauphiné, with Bretagne - Séché Environnement missing out in June.