Astana, Agritubel, and Barloworld join 18 pre-selected teams
Tour de France organizers Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) announced Wednesday the three wildcard teams for the 94th edition of the race, which starts in just over one month. 21 total teams will begin in London on July 7. The eighteen ProTour teams announced December 12, 2006, will be joined by Astana, Agritubel, and Barloworld, thereby bringing the total number of riders to 189 (nine riders per team).
Astana, which was one of two ProTour teams along with Unibet.com not previously guaranteed entry into the race, is the nineteenth ProTour team set to participate. The less fortunate Unibet.com, a team caught in the middle of an ongoing conflict between ASO and the UCI, was not awarded a wildcard spot.
Astana boasts two overall favorites including last year's Vuelta España winner, Alexandre Vinokourov, who sat out the TdF in 2006 after his Liberty Seguros team was suspended due to the Operación Puerto doping affair (Vinokourov was not implicated in the scandal). Andreas Klöden, a previous two-time overall podium visitor while riding for T-Mobile, is another overall contender.
The biggest surprise invitee was Barloworld, one of two non-ProTour teams on the roster. The team includes well-known sprinter Robbie Hunter of South Africa and others like Italian Fabrizio Guidi, Russian Alexandre Efimkin, and Columbian Felix Rafael Cárdenas Ravalo, who won a stage in the 2001 Tour de France. The South African team has financial and organizational ties to London, where the opening prologue will launch the three-week Tour.
Team Manager Claudio Corti was thrilled with the selection. "Obviously we're very happy with ASO's decision and very thankful that they've recognized the qualities of our team and our professionalism," said Corti. "The project we've been working on for two years has everything in place to take to the highest level. From an organizational point of view, I believe we've already shown that we work to the highest standards. We've always kept our standards very high and focused on quality young riders that are showing their worth, and on more experienced riders who have already obtained impressive results."
Corti was keeping the team's chances in perspective. "We know we can't compete for the big objectives in the race but we're sure we can play a key role in the racing. The enthusiasm of our riders will be extra motivation so that we put ourselves in the spotlight in the most important race in the world." Corti named two director sportifs, Alberto Volpi and Valerio Tebaldi and said it will soon select its nine riders from a list of twelve candidates already named.
The selection of French team Agritubel was less of a surprise.
"We have the concern of supporting French cycling," said Jean-François Pescheux of ASO according to Reuters. "This team had an excellent first Tour de France in 2006 with a Pau stage win with Juan-Miguel Mercado." Mercado is one of several strong Spanish-speaking riders on the team. Agritubel will likely include key French riders such as Nicolas Vogondy and Nicolas Jalabert on its roster to race their home Grand Tour.
Pescheux told Reuters ASO reviewed twelve candidates for the wildcard spots and chose three very professional teams. "Those teams that do not have at their center a potential winner of the Tour de France have riders capable of animating many stages."
2007 Tour de France Teams
Française des Jeux