LIEGE, Belgium (VN) — Speculation is growing that IAM Cycling could be squeezed out of a Tour de France invitation in favor of French teams.
With 19 squads already confirmed, Tour officials have refused to publicly speculate how many teams it will invite to this summer’s 100th Tour, but expectations are that only three invitations will be extended.
With the Tour celebrating its centennial, there will be huge pressure to invite three French teams.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme refused to comment Saturday, saying only that the invitations will be “coming soon.”
Tour invites are already overdue and Prudhomme said in an interview with L’Equipe that the selection process has been difficult this year.
The legal battle over Katusha’s UCI WorldTour license has complicated things for the Tour and other major races.
The Russian-backed team won its challenge in the Court of Arbitration for Sport to keep its place in the WorldTour league. Rather than boot out another team, the UCI decided to allow 19 teams for the 2013 season, all with guaranteed starts in the major races.
That has created headaches for race organizers. One-day races have more wiggle room because only eight or fewer riders start, meaning the addition of one or more teams isn’t such an issue.
The grand tours have much bigger logistical challenges, especially with booking hotels for nine-rider teams and support staff.
Giro d’Italia officials got an exemption to start with 23 teams, but even issues such as finding extra space to park buses and cars at starts and finishes created unexpected challenges.
The buzz among insiders attending Saturday’s team presentation ahead of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is that the Tour will invite only three teams, not four.
Cofidis and Europcar seemed all but assured of invitations. The two long-running French teams have deep ties with the Tour organization and are reliable performers.
On the bubble are Sojasun, the all-French Pro Continental squad, and IAM Racing, the startup Swiss team that’s already earned invites to all the major races this year.
On paper, IAM Cycling is much stronger and deeper than Sojasun, yet that is not always a guarantee of Tour selection.
Adding pressure to Tour officials are reports in the French media that Sojasun will end its sponsorship if the team does not secure a Tour bid this year.
Speaking to VeloNews, IAM Cycling manager Serge Beucherie said the team is optimistic that it will receive an invitation.
“The truth is, we do not know what will happen,” Beucherie said. “We are hopeful of receiving an invitation. We have proven to be a team of top caliber in all of races so far this season. If you look at the results, we deserve to go to the Tour.”
So far in its debut season, IAM Cycling won the Tour Méditerranéen in February and a stage in the Circuit de la Sarthe in early April.
It’s also scored a handful of podiums, and it performed impressively across the spring classics. The Giro, however, did not invite the team, instead selecting Colombia plus three Italian teams.
The Swiss-based squad will now race the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse on home roads, but it could well be locked out of the Tour.
“Of course, we would be disappointed if we do not go to the Tour this year. We believe we deserve it,” Beucherie said. “This is a long-term project and we are building the team for the future, but of course, we want to be in the Tour this year.”
Is Cancellara IAM-bound?
There is also growing speculation that classics star Fabian Cancellara could be headed to IAM Cycling for next season.
The Swiss team already made contacts with Cancellara entering 2013, but the 2008 Olympic time trial champion wanted to respect his final year of his contract with RadioShack-Leopard.
With the Luxembourg-registered RadioShack squad facing an uncertain future and with speculation that RadioShack is out as the title sponsor for next year, Cancellara is said to be considering his options.
Beaucherie refused to throw gas on the fire, only replying with a sly smile.
“We will not say anything about that story,” he said. “We will let the media make its stories.”
Cancellara, however, would be a huge coup for the team and he would help bolster its case for WorldTour status for 2014. With several teams looking at possibly losing sponsors for next year, IAM Cycling is poised to move up for next year.
Whether it receives a Tour invitation for this year should be known by the end of next week.