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Tour de France: The alternative 'non-selected' nine-man team

Over the past couple of weeks, 198 riders have been told to pack their bags for a three-week trip around France. Some, however, have not.

This year some notable names have missed out on selection for the biggest race of the year but – in what will be of no consolation whatsoever – we've made a home for them here, in the welcoming bosom of our alternative 'not-picked' team of nine. This is not a place for those who were never going to do the Tour de France, or those who have been injured, but rather riders who were in line to take part in La Grande Boucle, but didn't get the nod.

They say that one man's trash is another man's treasure, and so we proudly present the unofficial 23rd team of the 2016 Tour de France.

Leader - Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo)

Our team has proven Grand Tour pedigree in the form of 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, who will lead our bid for the maillot jaune.

The 35-year-old's primary goal for the season was the Giro d'Italia in May, but he was forced to abandon on stage 14 as he came down with a combination of pharyngitis and tracheitis. Hesjedal is no stranger to doubling up on the Giro and Tour, and his early exit strengthened the likelihood of him going to France to back up Bauke Mollema and perhaps go on the offensive in the mountains in the final week. However, having finished an hour back at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the team was not convinced of his form.

"It was the right decision by all involved in the process," said Hesjedal on Twitter regarding his omission. "Just not at the level I am usually at. Can't do Tour less than 100%."

Well, you can in this team, Ryder, though we do insist you spend a little less time at the back of the bunch.

Free role - Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

There aren't too many recent world champions who get left out of Tour de France squads, but that's exactly what happens over at the talent-hoarding Team Sky.

Kwiatkowski, 26 and still developing, won E3 Harelbeke this year and Amstel Gold last, and Sky have been looking at his potential as a more focused stage racer – he did, after all, finish 11th in his debut Tour three years ago.

But illness has cost the Pole, one of Sky's marquee signings, a fourth Tour de France, as he succumbed to laryngitis at the Dauphiné. Perhaps in another team he'd have kept his place with the hope he'd be fully recovered in time for the Grand Départ, but Sky, with ample strength in depth, weren't willing to take the risk.

"He's not quite as fit as he needs to be and that's ruled him out," said Dave Braislford. "Leaving a guy of his calibre out of the team is not easy. But you've got to go with form and performance – that leads the way in selection."

Kwiatkowski can enjoy something of a free role in our team, searching for stage victory on a medium mountain day while also testing his consistency in terms of the general classification.

Super domestique - Dario Cataldo (Astana)

A surprising omission on the part of Astana provides us with a luxury domestique.

Cataldo has never ridden the Tour de France but since making the move from Sky to Astana last year he has formed part of the 'gruppo Aru' – the core of riders dedicated to Fabio Aru in a squad seemingly split down the fault line between the precocious Sardinian and the experienced Sicilian, Vincenzo Nibali.

Cataldo was a key man for Aru as he finished second at the Giro and then won the Vuelta a España last year, and has regularly accompanied him on his trips to Sestrière for spells of high-altitude training. With the team insisting that Aru is the clear leader at the Tour this year – even though Giro winner Nibali is in the squad – Cataldo would have expected to be packing his bags but was not included in the Kazakh team's final nine.

He'll be our most important domestique when the GC battle is ignited, providing invaluable support on the pivotal mountain stages.

Plan B - Samuel Sánchez (BMC)

The 38-year-old practically earned a new contract with BMC last year on the strength of his Tour de France alone, so it's a surprise that his name isn't on the start list this year.

He was a superb domestique to Tejay van Garderen last time, regularly riding with the GC favourites and finishing the race 12th overall after the American leader abandoned on stage 17. This year the Olympics are on his agenda and it would have been logical to ride the Tour but, after abandoning the Tour de Suisse, he was told that the Vuelta would instead be his Grand Tour this year.

Sánchez brings a wealth of experience and strength in the mountains. If Hesjedal – as is his wont – loses a chunk of time in the first week and recalibrates his ambitions in favour of final-week mountain escapades, Sánchez is more than capable of taking up the GC reigns in search of what would be his ninth Grand Tour top ten finish.

Road captain - Nicolas Roche (Team Sky)

Another one to miss the Sky boat. Brailsford didn't have room for the Irishman's wealth of experience, but we certainly do.

Roche is a veteran of 16 Grand Tours, he's ridden every Tour since 2009, and he's worked for some top GC leaders like Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.

He set out a goal of riding all three Grand Tours this year, which started well at the Giro but has become unstuck here. He was essentially squeezed out by competition, as Mikel Landa exited the Giro and Sergio Henao returned from an internal suspension to form part of an unrivalled array of start quality.

Roche has won Grand Tour stages – as recently as the Vuelta last year – and he's even finished in the top 5 overall – the Vuelta again in 2013 – but in this team he's the road captain, marshalling the troops, calling the shots, and getting everyone organised and motivated.

Rouleur/time triallist - Alex Dowsett (Movistar)

It was originally intended that the five-time British time trial champion would ride the Giro d'Italia, but a metal plate in his collarbone – inserted after a January 2015 crash – began to show through his skin just over a week before the Grande Partenza. Urgent surgery was required and Dowsett had to realign his goals.

He travelled to the Alps in May in what looked like a bid to get himself into Tour shape, and he was duly included on Movistar's long list. However, he had a disappointing Tour de Suisse and just missed out on the final nine.

After his debut Tour last year was derailed by a crash on stage 4, this year Dowsett will provide us with a real chance of a victory on stage 13. The undulating 37.5km time trial certainly suits the chrono specialist, who took a maiden Grand Tour victory on a tough 54.8km course at the 2013 Giro.

Aside from the time trials, Dowsett would be deployed – as was the case for Quintana last year – as a windshield on the flat, using his rouleur capabilities to protect our leaders.

Puncheur - Philippe Gilbert (BMC)

Whether it's his injury-disrupted season, the nature of BMC line-up, his relationship with the team, or a combination of factors, Philippe Gilbert will not be riding the Tour de France this year.

The Belgian broke his finger in an altercation with an 'intoxicated' driver in April, which severely hampered him for the Ardennes Classics – his bread and butter – along with ruling him out of the Giro d'Italia. The Tour de France was on the cards, but by the time Gilbert had showcased his return to form with two stages at the Tour de Luxembourg he had already been told he'd be spending the bulk of July in Poland rather than France. 

If Luxembourg didn't have a particularly impressive field, Gilbert silenced any doubters by winning the Belgian national championships road race on Sunday ahead of Tim Wellens and teammate Greg van Avermaet, who is going to the Tour. BMC's loss is very much our gain, and the former world champion would significantly bolster our stage-winning potential with his 67 career victories. The third-category finish on day two looks tailor-made for him, while stage 16 in Berne, with a cobbled climb in the finale, might also be a target. 

Sprinter - Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data)

Tyler Farrar rode his fifth Tour de France last year in his debut season at MTN-Qhubeka, but the South African team has since been renamed as Dimension Data, moved up to WorldTour level, and acquired the services of Mark Cavendish.

That has posed a problem for Farrar's Tour hopes, with the American moving down the pecking order. He would still have fancied his chances of forming part of the Manxman's leadout train, even with Mark Renshaw and Edvald Boasson Hagen the main men, but it seems that Reinhard Janse van Rensburg has been preferred.

Farrar, now 32, may have his best days behind him – with no win since 2014 and no Grand Tour victory since 2011 – but there's no doubt he knows his way around a Grand Tour sprint.

Domestique/stage hunter - Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep)

More of a mutual decision than a straight-up non-selection but nevertheless Stybar was in line to ride the Tour de France before finding that his and Etixx-QuickStep's plans didn't really align.

The Belgian squad will be rigidly geared towards Marcel Kittel in the sprint stages and they have a rider capable of launching a top ten GC bid in Dan Martin, who was third at the Dauphiné. With Martin an attacking rider who will no doubt fancy a stage win, and Julian Alaphilippe of similar mindset, there wasn't the room to allow Stybar the freedom to chase stage wins as and when he fancied.

A stage win was what he got at his debut Tour last year, when he capitalised on a chaotic stage 6 finale to strike free and hold off the sprinters. The Classics specialist and former cyclo-cross world champion has a broad set of shoulders and would be a valuable work horse but we'd certainly give him every opportunity to get in a breakaway or mount a similar charge for stage glory.

What do you think of our alternate Tour de France team? Who have we missed? Would it rival some of the actual squads? Let us know in the comments below.

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Patrick Fletcher
Patrick Fletcher

Deputy Editor - Europe. 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 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, 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.