As teams gather for the first major French race of the season, Paris-Nice starting on Sunday, race organisers Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) held a key technical meeting and revealed that the team for this year's Tour de France will be announced at the end of March.
“We have a total of 25 nominated teams,” said Jean-François Pescheux, the technical director of the Tour, according to the AFP news agency.
Just who from those 25 teams will secure one of the expected 22 places at the Tour is still unclear.
16 teams are assured a place under an agreement from 2008. However it remains to be seen if ASO will respect that agreement following sponsor and ProTour status changes. The 16 teams are: AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, HTC-Columbia, Euskaltel, Francaise des Jeux, Footon-Servetto, Lampre, Liquigas-Doimo, Milram, Quick Step, Rabobank, Saxo Bank, Omega Pharma-Lotto.
Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervelo Test Team are not covered by the agreement but all three teams will surely be invited back to the Tour in 2010. However the creation of Lance Armstrong's RadioShack team and Team Sky has made competition for places in the Tour de France very intense.
If all these teams were invited, as is widely expected, that would leave only one other wild card place. That could go to new French team Saur-Sojasun but with the Tour de France starting in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, the Vacansoleil team must also have a great chance, as does Skil-Shimano, who took part in the 2009 Tour de France.
Tour cobbles signposted in April
Pescheux also revealed that the final cobbled sections of stage three of the Tour de France from Wanze to Arenberg, will be signposted so that teams and fans can check out what could be a very important early stage in this year's Tour. The stage will finish at the entrance to the Forest of Arenberg section of cobbles used in Paris-Roubaix.
ASO announced minor technical changes to the routes of this year's Fleche-Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and confirmed that the Dauphine Libere (June 6-13) would start in Evian and end in Sallanches as planned. The full route will be revealed in mid-April.