Dutch teams Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano have shown that hunting season is well and truly open as Pro Continental teams chase a wild card invitation to the Tour de France.
It took little more than three kilometres in the opening road stage of Paris-Nice on Monday before a rider from Vacansoleil, Romain Feillu, attacked. The Frenchman, who was riding on roads close to Vendôme where he grew up, was quickly joined in the escape by Albert Timmer from Skil-Shimano.
The two Dutch squads are candidates for an invitation to ride the 2010 Tour de France, a race that will start in their home country, in Rotterdam on July 3. While Skil-Shimano will benefit from the positive precedent set at their debut Tour participation in 2009, Vacansoleil will rely heavily on their recruitment of the Feillu brothers - Romain and 2009 Tour de France stage winner, Brice - to seduce the race organisers.
"There’s nothing going on between our two teams," said Iwan Spekenbrink, Team Manager of Skil-Shimano. "But it’s not a coincidence that we’ve seen these two teams on the attack today: we have the same objective. We both want to attack for the same reason."
Timmer denied he went to the front to simply prevent Vacansoleil from reaping maximum exposure from the escape attempt. "The first attack was a good one," he said. "I saw Romain [Feillu] going and nobody followed him, so I went as well. 140 out of the 150 kilometres we rode in the front were with tail wind. We talked and worked well together. If it was a rider from another team, I would have gone as well. It was my duty to go on the attack today."
"Everytime there is a Vacansoleil and a Skil-Shimano rider in the front of a race, of course, the selection for the Tour de France is in our mind," said Romain Feillu, the elder of the two Feillu brothers. "It was planned that I would try something today. We have two sprinters in our team here [Borut Bozic is the other one], so it gives us the possibility to send one us in breakaways. If it works, it can be a jackpot."
Tour organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) will invite six teams to the 2010 edition of the three-week race. The 22-team start list will contain the 16 teams who were partner to an agreement signed between members of the ProTour in September 2008 (see right). RadioShack, Sky, Garmin-Transitions, Katusha and Cervélo TestTeam are obvious choices for five of the six spots, with BMC Racing Team the hot favourite to secure the sixth and final invitation.
Regardless of the odds stacked against them, Vacansoleil and Skil-Shimano will take every opportunity to demonstrate that they too deserve to line up in Rotterdam. Their motivation no doubt doubled at Paris-Nice, which is also organised by ASO.
The teams with the golden tickets
Under an agreement signed in September 2008 between ASO and then-members of the ProTour, 16 teams have guaranteed entry to the 2010 Tour de France:
Bbox Bouygues Telecom
Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne
Francaise des Jeux