With the Tour de France kicking off in Brittany in July, it?s guaranteed that hundreds of thousands of Breton cycling fans will be lining the roads to cheer the race. But if race director Christian Prudhomme gets his way, there could be a Breton team in the race.
While the Astana team, including defending champ Alberto Contador, wait in suspense for an invitation to the race, Prudhomme hinted that the Continental Bretagne-Armor Lux team would be welcome at the Tour.
?You have to give hope to the teams who form the grass roots of cycling. It would be fantastic to have a team like Bretagne at the Grand Départ,? said Prudhomme, according to Velo magazine.
Bretagne, who only hire Breton riders, would undoubtedly find the going tough at the Tour, and only have 13 riders in their squad. Up against Française des Jeux and Bouyues Telecom, they recently won two stages in the pre-season Tropicale Amissa Bongo race, but the biggest bike race in the world would be another level.
The Bretagne riders don?t appear to be intimidated by the prospect. ?The whole team dreams of the Tour,? said Cyril Gautier. ?The fans ask us if the team will be there, and there is a real sense of anticipation around Brittany.?
However, team manager Joël Blévin thinks it would be more realistic to build towards a start at the Tour in 2009.
?ASO has opened a door to us, and we are going to try to go through it. But this year may be too soon,? he said.
The sport?s governing body, the UCI, want the Tour to invite the 18 ProTour teams, but Prudhomme has insisted that he will decide which teams to invite. Under UCI ProTour rules, Continental division teams can?t participate in a ProTour race, but the Tour is planning to run under the control of the French Cycling Federation.
Astana are currently in limbo, after rumours appeared in the Spanish press that the fallout from Operacion Puerto, combined with the team?s exclusion from last year?s race following Alexandre Vinokourov?s positive test, would prevent them from getting an invite.
The Tour, who have recently signed a 23 million euro deal with French television, are desperate to avoid scandal in 2008, after two disastrous years. It?s unlikely that the Bretagne team will be lining up in Brest on July 5, but the fact that Prudhomme is talking about inviting them at all is a shot across the UCI and Astana?s bows.