At the start of 2016, I griped that the Tour de France’s wildcard teams were uninspiring. I doubt our friends at the ASO read that story (or cared about my opinion), but happily, there’s a bit of diversity in the four wildcard teams selected for the 2017 Grande Boucle. Instead of an all-French line-up, the four Pro Continental teams are now 25 percent more international! Okay, not a huge change, but here’s a quick look at what to expect out of this year’s Tour de France wildcards. (Remember: All 18 WorldTour outfits are automatically invited to this and every WorldTour race — here’s a look at some of our favorite teams.)
Some Pro Continental teams are neither here nor there — they’ve got an okay GC guy, a decent sprinter, maybe a rider who likes breakaways. The great thing about Cofidis is that it is a pure sprint team built around Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman, who may be the peloton’s most hateable sprinter (sorry Cav!), won two-thirds of the team’s 2016 victories. The problem is, he got a little teed-off by some noisy neighbors at a French hotel and punched his way — literally — out of the 2016 Tour. Hopefully he can keep a lid on it, avoid relegations in sprints, and give Cofidis its first win since stage 19 of the 2008 Tour de France, where Sylvain Chavanel won in Montluçon.
Fortuneo – Vital Concept
2016 win tally: 9
2016 WorldTour wins: none
Stage win potential: 3/10
Of the four Tour wildcards, Fortuneo has the worst record on paper. The Breton team is not lacking in potential, however. Kevin Ledanois won the 2015 U23 world championships in Richmond. Great Britain’s Daniel McLay is an emerging sprinter who took third in the Tour’s stage 6 last year. Fortuneo also has a rider for the mountains in Brice Feillu, who won the 2009 Tour’s stage 7 on Andorra Arcalis — no small feat. Plus, Francis Mourey, 36, can offer his 14 years of experience as a road captain. But a puncheur like Ledanois can’t compare with someone like Peter Sagan; nor can McLay out-sprint Cavendish (yet); and Feillu won’t likely out-climb Quintana. So, Fortuneo – Vital Concept will need to find the right scenario, likely a breakaway, for a chance at its maiden Tour win.
Wanty – Groupe Gobert
2016 win tally: 12
2016 WorldTour wins: Amstel Gold Race (Enrico Gasparotto).
Stage win potential: 5/10
Like I suggested in the introduction, I’ve got the hots for Wanty. The team is full of explosive breakaway artists, but unfortunately, Gasparotto has left the squad for Bahrain – Merida in 2017. That leaves us with some less-familiar names — take Guillaume Martin, who won U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2015, as well as a mountainous stage in Tour de l’Avenir that year. Maybe the hilly run to Longwy in stage 3 will suit him. Wanty is also home to Danilo Napolitano who out-sprinted Robbie McEwen to win stage 9 of the 2007 Giro. The 35-year-old might be past his prime for true bunch sprints. Okay, maybe I’ve been overselling this team’s potential, but it’s a safe bet that its riders will be regular members of the daily breakaway.
2016 win tally: 25
2016 WorldTour wins: Vuelta a España, stage 4 (Lilian Calmejane).
Stage win potential: 7/10
If there is such a thing as home field advantage in cycling, Direct Energie might have it. Its riders took 18 of the team’s 25 wins last year in France. The thing is, that good fortune doesn’t extend to the Tour. The team’s prior iteration, Europcar, went on a tear in 2012, winning three Tour stages. Since then, it has been crickets. With retirement on the horizon this season, maybe Thomas Voeckler will rediscover the magic that won him two of those three stages five years ago. For old time’s sake, it would be a treat to see Voeckler mug his way up an Alpine climb to win one last time at the Tour, but realistically, Bryan Coquard is Direct Energie’s future. “Le Coq” nearly won stage 4 last year, and the pint-sized (128 pounds!) sprinter had 13 victories in 2016 — it is only a matter of time.