Team Sky at risk of missing out on automatic invite to 2011 Tour de France
Rule changes and slide down the UCI ranking conspire against Team Sky
British ProTour outfit Team Sky is at risk of missing out on an automatic invitation to next year’s Tour de France, road.cc can reveal. Under new rules applying to cycling’s biggest race from 2011 onwards, the top 17 teams in the UCI world rankings, irrespective of whether they have ProTour or lower status, are guaranteed entry to the race. Team Sky is currently ranked 16th, and has just six events left, including the Vuelta a Espana, to consolidate its position.
UCI team rankings are calculated on the performance of their top five ranked riders, which in Team Sky’s case is Greg Henderson (97 points), Edvald Boasson Hagen (90), Juan Antonio Flecha (71), Bradley Wiggins (18) and Geraint Thomas (15). Of that quintet, only Flecha races in the Vuelta, which starts a week on Saturday.
Having a ProTour license grants teams the right to participate in all ProTour events, although it is by no means mandatory, with some outfits such as Cervélo TestTeam opting for the less stringent requirements attached to Professional Continental status.
However, things get complicated when it comes to cycling’s three Grand Tours and the major one-day events, which aren’t officially ProTour events, but are effectively given the same status in the UCI calendar.
For this year’s Tour de France, under an agreement made in late 2008, the 16 surviving ProTour teams of the 18 then in existence had been guaranteed a place in the 22 that started the race, the maximum permitted, although in 2009, only 20 teams took part.
From next year, however, it will be the 17 teams ranked highest in the UCI World Rankings at the end of this season that will pre-qualify for the race. Currently, that would include three non-ProTour teams – BMC Racing, Cervélo TestTeam and Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni – while current ProTour outfits AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ, Milram and Footon Servetto would be vying with Professional Continental teams for the remaining places.
There’s therefore every incentive for outfits currently below Team Sky in the rankings to try and rack up points in this season’s remaining events to try and get into that top 17. In the latest rankings, Team Sky has 291 points, followed by Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni (243) and the French trio of AG2R-La Mondiale (198), Cofidis (148) and Bbox Bouygues Telecom (147).
Team Sky should in theory have enough of a cushion to finish in the top 17 and thereby guarantee automatic entry to the 2011 Tour de France, but will need to keep a watchful eye on the French trio in particular if they are to avoid having to rely on an invitation from race organisers ASO.
Meanwhile, road cycling’s growing stature as a global sport has been confirmed by the news from world governing body the UCI that 14 teams are scrambling to secure just eight ProTour licenses that are available for the 2011 season.
Those teams include eight existing ProTour teams whose licenses expire at the end of the current season, four teams that currently have Professional Continental status – Bbox Bouygues Télécom, BMC Racing, Cofidis and Vacansoleil – plus Pegasus Sports, currently racing as Oceania Tour outfit Fly V Australia, and the new Luxembourg-based team to be headed by the Schleck brothers.
The eight teams whose licenses expire this year are Astana, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Milram (which is seeking a new sponsor), FDJ , Geox (currently Footon-Servetto), Liquigas-Doimo, Team HTC-Columbia and Telefonica Movistar (currently Caisse d’Epargne).
Meanwhile, ten teams currently already have ProTour licenses that cover the 2011 season, being Ag2r La Mondiale, Garmin-Transitions, Lampre-Farnese Vini, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Team Sky, Katusha, RadioShack and Team Saxo Bank.
The UCI awards teams ProTour licences based on a number of criteria, which it defines as “excellent performance in sporting terms – the most important criterion; unconditional respect of ethics; assurance of financial stability and effective administration.”
Here, too, things are less than straightforward – this year, Professional Continental teams adhering to the UCI’s Biological Passport Programme, qualified for Wild Card status, but that is now being phased out because all teams at that level now need to join the programme. With 28 applications received for Professional Continental status, there is also significant competition for places at that level.
The UCI’s Licence Commission will announce the provisional list of teams to be awarded licences on 20 November 2010, with the definitive list published the following month.