It’s inevitable this time of year. As teams finalize their nine-rider squads for cycling’s biggest race, a few top names will miss the Tour de France. Sometimes it’s for health reasons. Others get caught up in inside-the-bus politics.
By Monday afternoon, as more teams officially confirmed their Tour lineups for Saturday’s stage in Düsseldorf, there have been some surprises in July’s annual game of musical chairs.
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The biggest omission Monday was Bryan Coquard, left off Direct Energie’s Tour squad. The 25-year-old has raced the past three editions of the Tour, finishing second in stages both in 2015 and 2016. He emerged as a franchise rider for the second-division French team.
Jean-René Bernaudeau brushed back reports that he left the French sprinter at home because Coquard confirmed he’s searching for a new team for 2018. Instead, he cited “sporting reasons.”
“It’s been several weeks since he’s done anything,” Bernaudeau told Le Parisien. “If he had beaten [FDJ’s Arnaud] Démare, or even come close, we might have made another choice. He wasn’t a factor in his recent races, and couldn’t follow the wheel in the French national championships.”
Instead, Bernaudeau will bring crowd favorites Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler, riding his final Tour. Also, Lilian Calmejane, 24, with six wins this year, carries the team colors.
By Monday, nearly every major Tour-bound team had made its final selection known (only Quick-Step remained). With nine spots available for the season’s most important race — possibly reduced to eight in 2018 — unsurprisingly, some people won’t make the cut.
“We have our long list, usually 11 or 12 riders, and we have to whittle that down to nine. Sometimes we have to make hard decisions,” said BMC Racing’s Jim Ochowicz. “We always bring the strongest guys to do the job.”
Several deeper teams like BMC Racing or Team Sky are forced to make the hard choices, leaving Tour-worthy riders at home. Brent Bookwalter and Rohan Dennis were squeezed out at BMC Racing. (Dennis said it was his call not to race.) Team Sky overlooked Wout Poels and Ian Stannard, both starters in 2016, as well as the on-form Peter Kennaugh.
Poels was coming back from an early season knee injury, and though he thought he would return to provide the same kind of key support for Froome as he did in 2016, Poels got the phone call he didn’t want to hear.
“If you get that call, and you hear that you’re not going, it hits you,” Poels told the Dutch paper Der Telegraaf. “I was confident that I was going. I’m not angry, but certainly disappointed.”
Katusha’s Tour selection also stirred up controversy. Michael Morkov will not start. The Dane is Alexander Kristoff’s key lead-out man. The Russian-backed outfit tapped other riders instead, such as Marco Haller and Rick Zabel. Kristoff delivered two Tour stage wins in 2014, but has struggled to post big results since winning Tour of Flanders in 2015. Kristoff is renegotiating his contract at the end of the year. Leaving Morkov at home be Katusha’s way of indicating it will look beyond the mass sprints.
Previous success doesn’t always guarantee a spot. Australian star Simon Gerrans, twice a Tour stage-winner and a yellow jersey holder, was left off Orica-Scott as the team evolves from a stage-hunting squad to a more GC-oriented focus. Gerrans, 37, could be the odd man out as Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves take over the pulse of the team. Instead, Orica-Scott tapped GC veteran Roman Kreuziger to provide key support.
“Roman’s going to be my road captain in the mountain stages. He’s been three times in the top-10, and he has a wealth of experience,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “He’s going to be a great guy to around my young GC riders. [Esteban] Chaves has never done the Tour before, and Roman, he’s old school. He handles the pressure well, and he will be a real calming effect on those young guys.”
Sometimes riders at the end of a contract or at the tail-end of their careers might get overlooked in favor of a rising prospect. If a rider is set to move to another team or even retire at the end of the season, teams are sometimes hesitant to give the high-profile slot to a rider without a promising future.
That seems to be the case for Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo), who, at 40, had started 15 Tours and finished 14 during his career. Zubeldia posted a message on social media this week that he has a “broken heart” after getting overlooked to help Alberto Contador in the upcoming Tour. His ambition of equaling the record of 17 Tour starts, held by Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady, seems destined to fall short. [Zubeldia was added to Trek’s Tour team at the last minute Tuesday after André Cardoso was suspended for a failed anti-doping test -Ed.]
There will be several high-profile Tour debuts this summer: Chaves, Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown (Cannondale-Drapac), Stefan Küng (BMC Racing), Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Rick Zabel (Katusha), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
“Making the Tour de France team is a dream come true,” Phinney said on the team’s website. “The main reason I got into the sport of cycling is because I went to go watch the Tour de France when I was 14. And 15. I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ It’s taken me a long time to get to this point of saying I’m about to line up for the Tour. It feels right.”
Surprisingly, Mark Cavendish, who’s been battling glandular fever all spring, made Dimension Data’s team. Although he’s raced only four days since mid-March, Cavendish said the allure of the Tour was too strong. He is determined to start even if he admits he won’t be on top form.
A few big-name omissions shouldn’t come as a surprise, as many were never planning on racing the Tour in the first place. Among them are Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Adam Yates (Orica-Scott), and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). They are all expected to race the Vuelta a España in August.
Others, like Simon Spilak, simply don’t want to go. The two-time Tour de Suisse champ hasn’t raced the Tour since 2014. Why? He says he just doesn’t like racing for three weeks.