Tour de France snubs – The most controversial rider non-selections
From Wiggins and Cavendish to Loroño and Géminiani, we look at some of the most contentious omissions over the year
Monday's news that Mark Cavendish will not be riding the 2022 Tour de France was not all that surprising, given Fabio Jakobsen had long been slated for QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's sprinting slot, but it was still shocking.
The absence of a rider who won four stages and the green jersey last year is quite something in itself, not to mention Cavendish's having the outright all-time record for stage wins at his fingertips.
There was more than a hint of a breakdown in communication with his team when he said on Sunday that he'd heard nothing from them, and then on Monday that he found out about his non-inclusion on social media.
Cavendish is just one of a raft of high-profile snubs at this year's Tour de France, a list that includes the world champion Julian Alaphilippe and 2020 green jersey Sam Bennett.
Over the years, plenty of talented riders have been omitted from Tour de France selections and some teams have been proved right in their choices, but that hasn't stopped the controversy at the time.
Here, we look back at some of the most disputable omissions and their resulting fall-outs.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) – 2014
Say what you want about Bradley Wiggins but he really does warrant some credit for his actions back in 2014 when he went onto Sky’s biggest rival television network, the BBC, to essentially announce that unless Chris Froome fell off he wasn’t going to be selected for the Tour de France.
Of course, Wiggins had already missed the Tour the previous year having been encouraged to ride the Giro d’Italia as Froome set about building the foundations for his first of four wins but in 2014 there were calls for both Froome and Wiggins to be reunited in July.
Sadly, for those who lived off the drama of the infighting that played out in the 2012 race, such a scenario was never going to happen. To be fair, Wiggins’ non-selection was something of an easy choice for Brailsford. Froome had won the Tour the year before and his relationship with Wiggins was so fraught that the pair wouldn’t even talk to each other had they been in the same room, let alone the same team for three weeks straight.
And even though Wiggins was the poster boy of British Cycling, Sky and many a middle aged man who thought it was acceptable to strut around like Paul Weller, Brailsford ruthlessly but understandably cut the 2012 Tour winner from the team. In the end, Froome crashed out of the Tour, Wiggins won a world time trial title, and left the team the following spring. (DB)
Raphaël Géminiani (France) – 1958
In the era of national teams, nobody boasted quite the same star power as the host nation, and that was a concern for defending champion Jacques Anquetil in 1958, who asked French coach Marcel Bidot to limit the potential leaders in his line-up.
Bidot was thus compelled to choose between Raphaël Géminiani and Louison Bobet, and he made his decision after visiting that year’s Giro d’Italia. When Bidot opted for the three-time Tour winner – and neglected even to visit Géminiani’s hotel to explain – Le Grand Fusil’s anger was obvious, but at least he had the chance to get even.
Exiled from the French national team, Géminiani was still able to line out at the Tour in the colours of the regional Centre-Midi squad. At the Grand Départ in Brussels, Géminiani posed for photographers with a donkey that he claimed was named ‘Marcel’ and out on the road, too, he sought to embarrass the French manager.
Géminiani went on to enjoy the best Tour of his career and, after 20 stages, he was in yellow, 3:47 clear of Vito Favero and almost 8 minutes ahead of Anquetil. Stage 21, however, brought the race over the Lauteret, Luitel, Porte, Cucheron and Granier en route to Aix-les-Bains. On a day of driving rain, Charly Gaul danced clear of the Luitel and when Géminiani canvassed for help from the French national team, and Bobet in partciular, none was forthcoming.
“Judases,” Géminiani lamented at the finish in Aix-les-Bains, where he came in almost 15 minutes down on the new yellow jersey Gaul. He would still reach Paris in third, and the highest-placed Frenchman, but it was a bittersweet kind of revenge. (BR)
David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) – 2014
'Millar fumes over non-selection for final Tour de France' was the headline we ran back in 2014 when Garmin-Sharp decided to leave their veteran British rider at home and instead base their team around the talents of Andrew Talansky.
The American, who had just won a memorable edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné, looked like a top-five prospect, and heading towards the Tour he would have certainly benefited from an experienced Millar if the Scot was firing on all cylinders.
However, to be fair to the team management, although this was Millar’s final season in the WorldTour, and his last tilt at Tour, his results had been mediocre by his standards coming into the race. What’s more, he had become sick, failed to finish the Dauphiné, and then DNF’d at the British nationals. There had clearly been some communication failures between the rider and the team but when Millar took to social media to display his emotions the story became an even bigger event. At one point, Millar half-jokingly offered to sell his bike.
"None of my team will answer the phone to me. I under-performed at the nationals. I'm now so scared about losing my Tour spot I can't sleep," he wrote on Twitter just before the official news dropped.
A few days later, when the news was confirmed Millar spoke to Cyclingnews: "I'm massively disappointed, saddened and angry at my team, basically, that they didn't trust the fact that I would do my job at the Tour," he said. "The bottom line is, if I’d lied to them and not told them I’d got a bit of a cough, then I’d be at the Tour."
Millar had not missed a Tour de France since his ban for admitted EPO use ended just prior to the 2006 Tour but he retired at the end of the season with four Tour stage wins to his name, a yellow jersey, and presumably an unwanted Cervélo. (DB)
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) – 2019
By mid-2019, both Dimension Data and their talismanic sprinter Mark Cavendish were heading towards a very conscious uncoupling in the public arena. The team had won just one WorldTour race by the time the Tour de France swung into view, while Cavendish’s win drought stretched all the way back to the previous spring due to a long-standing virus.
Despite Cavendish’s lack of form or results, it was still a shock when team manager Doug Ryder left a rider who had won 30 Tour de France stages at home on the sofa for the month of July. It would have been understandable if the team had a ready-made replacement but they struggled through the Tour, failed to win a stage and couldn’t even console themselves with all the publicity Cavendish would have generated even if he’d raced half the Tour and finished over the time limit like he had the year before.
The situation, however, became farcical in Brussels ahead of the Grand Départ when Ryder chose to skive off from the pre-Tour press conference and instead send four of his riders to face the media. A day later Ryder, finally appeared outside the team bus to explain his decisions for leaving Cavendish at home, only for senior DS Rolf Aldag to walk off the bus a few minutes later and undermine his boss by stating he wanted Cavendish at the Tour and that the job of picking the team had been taken out of his hands.
According to Aldag, the German had put Cavendish forward on two occasions only for Ryder to put a line through his name each time. A few months later, Cavendish and Aldag were both gone, with the rider off to Bahrain and his loyal DS heading to Canyon SRAM. (DB)
Jesus Loroño (Faema) – 1959
Spain in the 1950s was bitterly divided between fans of climbing great Federico Martin Bahamontes and his arch-rival, 1957 Vuelta a España winner Jesus Loroño. When Spanish national coach Dalmacio Langarica announced at the Spanish Cycling Federation in Madrid, during a meeting of all the county’s potential participants, that he had left Loroño out of the 1959 Tour de France line-up, Loroño stormed out, slamming the door behind him.
Loroño’s supporters were so enraged at the news, some broke into the Federation while others tried to burn it down. Further north, in Bilbao, Langarica’s bike shop had its front window smashed in.
During the fans take-over of the Federation, Langarica had a fist-fight with a Loroño fan who had called him a "Commie separatist not worthy of running the selection" - at a time when the Communist Party was banned in Spain, a very serious insult. Langarica threw one punch at the fan so hard he broke one of his fingers, but - presumably after they realised the building was on fire - that didn’t stop them carrying on the fight outside.
Although the Federation was saved from being burned down, for weeks afterwards Langarica received death threats in the post. Loroño himself was, rather unfairly, fined and suspended from racing for two months for his fans behaviour, while Bahamontes went on to win the Tour. (AF)
Chris Froome (Ineos Grenadiers) – 2020
After a collectively disappointing Critérium du Dauphiné in 2020, Dave Brailsford rang in the changes with ruthless efficiency. Both Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome were cut from the longlist, with Thomas dispatched to the Giro d’Italia and Froome posted to the Vuelta a España.
At the time, Brailsford publicly sold these decisions as if they had been part of the plan all along, but there was no getting away from the fact that the team had simply failed to find their best form after the spring and early summer lockdown and that Thomas, Froome, as well as several others, were off the pace.
It’s debatable as to whether Froome or Thomas was the biggest surprise omission - Thomas had already proved that he could ride as back-up in 2019, while Froome was still desperately looking for his form of old following his Dauphiné crash the year before, but by leaving Froome out Brailsford was basically saying that reputation counted for little, and with Froome already set for a move to Israel Start-Up Nation, there would be no swansong Tour at the British team. (DB)
Bryan Coquard (Direct Énergie) – 2017
When he missed out to Marcel Kittel by a hair’s breadth in one of the most dramatic photo finishes in recent memory, it seemed unthinkable that Bryan Coquard would have to wait four years to sprint again at the Tour de France. However, when he informed Direct Energie manager Jean-René Bernaudeau early in 2017 of his intention to leave the team at the end of the year, it sparked an ugly chain of events that Coquard says had long-term implications on his career.
Despite winning five races in the first part of the season, Bernaudeau publicly questioned Coquard’s form and ability as July drew closer, before giving him an ultimatum at the Critérium du Dauphiné: win a stage or beat Arnaud Démare, and you can come to the Tour. After Bernaudeau ordered his team to work for Adrien Petit at the French nationals, Coquard’s omission from the Tour squad was confirmed.
"The Tour is reserved for the best. Bryan is not part of that club at the moment," Bernaudeau said, insisting the decision had nothing to do with the tensions surrounding the contract snub.
Coquard saw things differently. "Of course I’m angry," he said, while his mother publicly accused Bernaudeau of "destroying him psychologically". The team's talisman Thomas Voeckler took a diplomatic line but even he acknowledged Coquard represented their best chance of a stage win.
The team did end up winning one stage through Lilian Calmejane, while Coquard returned to the track before signing for B&B Hotels, although he struggled to leave the episode behind.
"It took a year, I reckon," Coquard told us early in 2019. "All last year I was no longer confident, no longer sure of myself, of my ability. It took a lot of time to overcome all that." (PF)
Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton Scott) – 2018
During the winter of 2017 and the early months of 2018, it looked as though Caleb Ewan was heading towards July with the ambition of making his Tour de France debut. In fact, he and his team at the time, Mitchelton-Scott, even said as much during the Tour Down Under, but during that spring and early summer something changed.
Ewan’s form never really dipped, although he did only take one win between February and July. He came within a whisker of winning Milan-San Remo and was easily the Australian team’s best sprint option for the Tour.
However, the team decided to leave the pocket-rocket sprinter at home with the management deciding to put all their eggs in the Adam Yates basket. Yates had finished fourth in 2016 and came into the 2018 Tour on the back of second place at the Dauphiné, while backing Ewan would have meant selecting two riders for his lead-out. At the time, the team stated that Ewan was left at home for ‘performance’ reasons.
One can only guess as to whether it had anything at all to do with the rumours Ewan's agent had been discussing a move to Lotto Soudal months previously, or the fact that the Australian team were never presented with the chance of even offering their sprinter a new deal, but in their defence they did select Michael Matthews the year before, even when they knew he was off at the end of the season.
In the end, Yates failed to mount a GC battle, Ewan moved to Lotto Soudal and has since established himself as one of the top sprinters in the world. (DB)
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) - 2021
Riders rarely lash out at their team managers in the media, but Pascal Ackermann was so enraged by his omission from the Tour in 2021 he did just that.
The German sprinter did not win a race in the first half of 2021, but still felt his Tour de France spot was beyond doubt. Ralph Denk, however, didn't see it that way.
Cue an extraordinary interview from Ackermann to Radsport News.
"I'm more than disappointed, I have to say. Ralph was always a man who kept his word. But this time he definitely didn't do it.
"It was said that I would be doing the Tour for three years, and it was always the case that I shouldn't worry about it. Without this promise, I would not have signed the contract back then. You have to see that too. That's why I am extremely disappointed."
Ackermann was not overtly punished for his actions. He was sent to some lower-level races in the second half of the campaign and won some of them, too. But his fate was sealed, and it was not surprising in the slightest to see him leave the team at the end of the year and head for UAE Team Emirates. (PF)
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) – 2020
In the end, this looked like a genius move, with the team winning three stages and lighting up the Tour de France with a level of verve and guille few squads employ in a race where defensive tactics are often the default. However, leading into the Tour, the omission of Matthews from the eight-rider roster looked puzzling at best.
After all, he had tallied up three stage wins during his career, and had been the only rider to win a green jersey outside of Peter Sagan since the invention of colour televisions. He was the team’s go-to-rider and leader.
Even his form was good, with a podium in Milan-San Remo despite the fact that he was forced to sprint with only one working hand, and then a fine win in Bretagne Classic. Matthews, though was dispatched to the Giro, and while that didn’t end well for COVID-19 related reasons, it’s hard to fault Sunweb’s performance at the Tour.
Matthews could have bought into their style of racing - he’s not the selfish type - but by leaving him at home the team certainly removed the responsibility of riding for one single focal point and it was their strength in numbers that often helped them succeed. Matthews would eventually join a long line of Sunweb riders who had their contracts nullified, with a move back to Team BikeExchange confirmed later in the year. (DB)
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Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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