UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — The 102nd Tour de France starts with perhaps its deepest GC field ever, with four five-star favorites and a host of other riders banging on the podium door.
But there are more than a few major names who are not racing. Here’s a quick list of who’s not here, and why:
Andy and Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing)
For the first time in a decade, a rider with the last name Schleck will not be part of the Tour. Andy retired at the end of last season with a devastating knee injury, while Frank succumbed to injury this spring and will miss the Tour as well. The Schlecks became the first brothers to finish on the Tour podium in 2011, but their fortunes have soured since then. “Not being at the Tour, it’s a big thing for me,” Frank Schleck said. “It’s disappointing not to be able to race there.”
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin)
A winner of eight stages over the past two years, the big German sprinter was dogged by illness and poor form all season. Despite holding out hope for recovery, Kittel admitted last week he won’t be racing this year’s Tour. His absence opens up huge possibilities for sprinters, such as Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) to pad their palmares. “Not being nominated is without doubt the most difficult time of my career,” Kittel said. “This is just another blow to me.”
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)
Third in 2010 and fourth in 2012, the Belgian GC hope never had the Tour on his program this season. After riding to 12th in the Giro, he will target the Vuelta a España later this season.
Fabio Aru, Mikel Landa (Astana)
These two blew through the Giro, finishing second and third, respectively, behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Though there was some pressure in Italy to take Aru, both will likely race the Vuelta. Aru is expected to make his Tour debut in 2016.
Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step)
Despite missing out on the spring classics with a shoulder injury during Paris-Nice, there is no love lost for Boonen and the Tour. Even with the cobbles in stage 4, Boonen will bypass the Tour and focus on the worlds in Richmond, Virginia. Terpstra, another classics strongman, also missed out on the competitive Etixx squad that has wealth in numbers. And finally, Etixx decided it was too early to bring 23-year-old French hope Alaphilippe, who enjoyed a breakout spring, to the rigors of the Tour for what would be his grand tour debut.
Philippe Gilbert, Peter Stetina (BMC Racing)
The 2011 world champ is missing the Tour with a lingering injury dating back to the spring classics. Despite winning two stages at the Giro d’Italia, there will be no yellow jersey hopes for Gilbert despite a first week that’s ideal for his style of racing. Stetina suffered a horrible crash during the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) when he struck a metal pole that was left on the finishing straight.
Bradley Wiggins, David Lopez, Mikel Nieve, Danny Pate (Sky)
Chris Froome sees a wealth of support for his bid for second a maillot jaune, but support riders such as Nieve and Lopez were squeezed out by the arrival of riders such as Woet Poels, Leopold Konig, and Nicolas Roche. Sky also put a heavy UK accent on the team this year, leaving off American Pate, who rode in last year’s Tour for Sky. And Wiggins, the winner of the 2012 Tour, retired following Paris-Roubaix. To some, it remains extraordinary that Wiggins became the first British rider to win the yellow jersey and then never raced the Tour again. He will focus on track cycling in a bid to win another Olympic gold medal in team pursuit during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Dani Moreno (Katusha), Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Friends in high places doesn’t always guarantee a starting spot. Moreno is the right-hand man of podium-hope Joaquim Rodríguez, but he was overlooked at Katusha, who brought more men to support sprinter Alexander Kristoff. Hernández, too, was always the sidekick to Alberto Contador, but with the team packed with superstars, he was muscled off the Tour squad.
Only three Americans
And finally, there are only three U.S. riders among the peloton in this year’s Tour, the lowest number in two decades. Several riders who were here last year were not selected for 2015, and a few, like Stetina or Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), were struck by injury and illness. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) are the only American starters this year.
One more notable absence is former Tinkoff-Saxo general manager Riis, who was fired by Oleg Tinkov in March. Once one of the major forces inside the peloton, Riis’ star seems to have faded of late. After selling his team to Tinkov in late 2013, the controversial ex-pro came under fire from an investigation by the Danish cycling federation, released last week, that revealed doping within the ranks of Riis’ former teams. Weathering the storm is a Riis trademark, and there are already reports from Denmark that Riis vows to find new sponsors and rebuild a team from scratch. For the first time since the early 2000s, the “Eagle from Herning” will not be in the Tour entourage.