Bryan Coquard, Pierre Rolland and the rest of the Vital Concept-B&B Hotels team will have to make other plans for July, as the final two wildcard invitations to the 2019 Tour de France went to Direct Energie and Arkea-Samsic.
Having unveiled the first two of the four wildcard spots in January to Cofidis and Wanty-Gobert, Tour organisers ASO delayed a decision on the remaining two.
It looked like a three-horse race between the remaining top French Pro Continental teams, with Vital Concept, established in 2018, going up against the longer-standing Direct Energie and Arkea-Samsic teams. On Friday, ASO announced that the latter two had been given the nod.
In terms of personnel, Jean-René Bernaudeau's Direct Energie team, who used to be home to Thomas Voeckler and are eyeing a move to WorldTour level, bolstered their line-up considerably with the signing of former Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra. He joined rising home talent Lilian Calmejane, who took a memorable stage win on his Tour de France debut in 2017.
Arkea-Samsic, meanwhile, made a high-profile signing of their own in Andre Greipel, winner of 11 Tour de France stages. They already had one of the top French riders in Warren Barguil, who won two stages and the mountains jersey at the 2017 Tour, and also another promising 'home' rider for the future in Elie Gesbert.
In delaying the decision, ASO said the wildcards would be decided based on sporting criteria. In terms of victories, Direct Energie clearly lead the way with seven. Niccolo Bonifazio, their chosen sprinter who has replaced Coquard, won three stages and the overall at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, while there has been a trio of one-day wins, with Anthony Turgis winning the GP La Marseillaise, Calmejane winning the Classic de l'Ardèche, and Pim Ligthart winning the Ronde van Drenthe. Terpstra finished on the podium of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Le Samyn, with the main spring classics period still to come.
Arkea-Samsic meanwhile, will be mightily relieved, having been worried at what was a slow start to the season. Greipel won a stage at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo but otherwise the German and his lead-out have so far failed to deliver the sort of return on investment expected. That is the team's only win of the season. Gesbert finished fifth at the Tour of Oman but Barguil's Paris-Nice ended on stage 2 with a nasty crash.
Vital Concept, meanwhile, have won three races - two at Amissa Bongo through Lorenzo Manzin and one at the Etoile de Bessèges through Coquard, who has a couple of other placings to his name but no further victory. Frustratingly for the team, new signing Rolland, a former Tour de France stage winner, was unable to take part in Paris-Nice after a crash.
"It gives us immense pride to participate in our 20th consecutive Tour," read a reaction from Direct Energie, who are rumoured to be bringing on board French oil giant Total as title sponsor next month. "Thank you for the invitation, we'll be full of energy."
"Thank you to the Tour for allowing us to ride the most beautiful race in the world," read a statement from Arkea-Samsic. "For the sixth year in a row, we will give our all for our sport, our partners, and our supporters in July."
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