While their non-selection for the upcoming Tour de France came as no surprise, with just the one wildcard spot awarded to Ag2r-Prevoyance, RAGT Semences team manager Serge Barle is nevertheless greatly disappointed, and believes the future for many Pro Continental Teams is in doubt.
"We were expecting it. But like lots of other things in life, you have to keep your hopes up, we still believed it was possible," said Barle.
"I get the feeling that things are not quite as healthy as they should be. There is no reason for this type of team to exist any more. I regret that the big French teams in the first year of the ProTour did not lend a helping hand to the smaller structures such as ours. As for RAGT, I am nevertheless aware of how lucky we were last year to be able to take part in all of the big events without ever having made ourselves looks ridiculous."
Barle cites the Giro d'Italia as a case in point, in that four stages have been won by riders from Pro Continental Teams (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare and Selle Italia-Colombia have two stages each), and asks the question: "What better indication could there be that it is the riders who make the team and not the team that makes the rider?"
There is also the problem of a lack of competition as a result of not getting a chance to ride most of the major races, adds Barle, meaning that when they do get the opportunity, the Pro Continental riders find it difficult to perform. "Being a pro rider in our division is a bit like coming out of the Conservatoire with a certificate of merit and never being allowed to play in an orchestra," he says.
"Frankly, starting [the year] without having taken part in the Paris-Nice already created a big gap. Being deprived of Le Dauphiné Libéré is just adding insult to injury. I'm not even mentioning our absence from the Tour de Suisse or the Tour of Romandie. The direct consequence is that we are not taking part in the Tour [de France] - a real shoot down. How is it possible to conceive that our riders stand a chance of doing anything decent in stage races, as they don't get chance to even take part?"
However, although unhappy with his team's current situation, Barle hasn't given up completely: "I hope that the team will prevail and that we will be able to ride well through to the Tour de l'Avenir, where I hope we will do as well as we did last year."
RAGT Semences's upcoming calendar will be as follows: Tour de Belgique (May 25-29), Grand Prix de Liodo (May 29) and the Euskal Bizikleta (June 1-5).