There will be either 21 or 22 teams taking part in the 2011 Tour de France, but exactly which teams will be invited to the sport's biggest event is still to be determined. The Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) today revealed the route of next year's Tour, but is still waiting to sit down with the UCI to come to an agreement regarding how the participating teams will be selected.
The UCI and Grand Tour organisers struck an agreement in 2008 where the top 17 teams in the UCI's world rankings at the end of the 2010 season would receive automatic invitations to all three Grand Tours in 2011, but Prudhomme indicated that the selection may not be set in stone.
"We don't know the rules precisely yet," said Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme. "New rules are to be decided in the near future."
Prudhomme's comments seem to indicate that the World Tour announced by the UCI after their congress in Melbourne won't be as easy to put in place as president Pat McQuaid said. "We as the governing body set the rules and race organisers have to respect them and it's good for them as well," the Irishman warned in Australia. Giro d'Italia organiser Angelo Zomegnan stated that he would stick to the agreement signed in Varese in 2008.
But three weeks ago, the UCI announced the Varese agreement was no longer valid and a new system was in place for the 18 best teams to be automatically qualified for the Grand Tours, but how the rankings are calculated and who will get into the Tour de France has not been revealed.
However, it seems that the battle between the UCI and the Grand Tours organisers will not be as intense as it was between 2004 and 2008 when the latter rejected the concept of the Pro Tour and ran the 2008 Tour de France outside the UCI's sanctioning. "Within one month, we should finalise with the UCI if we go for the proposed new system or if we keep the agreement of 2008," said Prudhomme.
The director of the Tour de France estimated that about 35 teams are bidding for starting the race. "21 or 22 teams will be chosen with 17 or 18 of them based on sportive criteria and invitations will be allocated as well," he said. French teams FDJ, Cofidis, Europcar, Saur-Sojasun and Bretagne-Schuller are likely to apply for wild-cards as well as many foreign teams.