Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has justified the selection of the 22 teams for this year's Tour de France, explaining that the spread of leading riders across the teams from around the world made choosing the final six teams extremely difficult.
Giving places to new teams RadioShack, Team Sky and BMC meant that French team Saur-Sojasun missed out on a place, while the absence of Vancansoleil means popular French riders Brice and Romain Feillu will not be in the Tour.
Prudhomme came under fire for his choices in Wednesday's l'Equipe newspaper but defended his decision to invite more English-speaking teams than French teams.
"It was very complicated selecting the teams," Prudhomme told l'Equipe. "We've always said there should be between 30 and 35 French riders and there will be. We won't forget the traditions of the Tour but cycling is becoming more and more international. The economic strength of international cycling and spread of the team leaders was also a factor. And there can't be more than 200 riders in the race for safety reasons."
"The selection of the six remaining places (after the pre-selection of 16 teams under a long-term agreement) was based on the quality of the teams and their respective leaders: RadioShack with Armstrong, Sky with Wiggins, who was fourth last year and who have a star of today and tomorrow in Boasson Hagen, Garmin who has Vande Velde for the overall and Farrar for the sprints, Katusha with their attackers like Pozzato and Rodriguez who won Catalunya; Cervélo with 2008 Tour winner Sastre and last year's green jersey Hushovd, and BMC with Evans who was second twice and is the current world champion."
"Despite their efforts since the start of the season, Saur-Sojasun hasn't done as well as those teams. I'm really sorry for the Feillu brothers and it wasn't nice to say 'We can't take you this year' to Saur-Sojasun but that means we didn't think they were up to it. When BMC signed it made things very difficult for everyone else. It's the first time for 15 years that the rainbow jersey will be fighting for a place on the podium."
The 16 automatically-selected teams under the 2008 agreement are: Team Milram, Quick Step, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Team Saxo Bank, Caisse d'Epargne, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Footon-Servetto, HTC-Columbia, AG2R La Mondiale, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Francaise des Jeux, Lampre-Farnese, Liquigas-Doimo, Astana, and Rabobank.
Wild card invitations: Garmin-Transitions, Team RadioShack, BMC Racing Team, Team Sky, Katusha, and Cervelo TestTeam.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.