French cycling is dealing with the blow of the UCI's new ProTeam rankings. Due to the new selection criteria, the historical cycling nation with the world's biggest race will have only one team in the top division next year: Ag2r La Mondiale with Nicolas Roche.
"I expected it a little. I am obliged to accept it," Cofidis General Manger Eric Boyer told France's La Voix du Nord newspaper. "I am glad that at least one French team keeps its place at the highest level of the world circuit."
Cofidis raced in the first division since it started in 1997 and continued through 2009. It raced in the second division this year and wanted to get back to the top level next year, but failed due to the Union Cycliste Internationale's (UCI) new criteria. The UCI based its decision on the team's ethics, financial strength, administration and ranking.
Cofidis ranked 19th in a list the UCI published on November. The top 15 were guaranteed a licence, while five teams ranked 15th to 20th - Euskaltel, Geox, Quick Step, Cofidis and Ag2r - had to fight for the remaining three licences. Both Cofidis and Mauro Gianetti's Geox team lost out.
"Cofidis has not gone away. We placed 19th in the world ranking because we participated in a limited number of ProTour races. We showed our ability to finish as close as possible to the very best," added Boyer.
"We must continue to believe in our work, which suggests that we can be with the top teams next season. Despite the disadvantages that we find again, there are wild card invitations to ProTour [now WorldTour - ed.] races in Spain, Belgium or Italy... I especially hope that soon we will know the game's rules for 2011. And they will not change along the way."
To rank the list, the UCI took into account the results from 2009 and 2010 of the best 15 riders that the teams had to submit by October 22. Team Luxembourg - which signed Fränk and Andy Schleck, and reportedly Fabian Cancellara - topped the list, Sky ranked eighth, Cofidis 19th, Ag2r 20th, Française des Jeux 21st and Europcar (formerly Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 27th.
"We cannot be blamed on the economic, ethical and legal criteria. We lack a true leader," said Boyer. "Who is he? A rider less than 30 years old who is able to finish among the top five of a Grand Tour or win a big classic. We will see in spring if one of our men is able to play that role. Otherwise, we will face this question at the time of recruitment."
Cofidis will almost certainly race the Tour de France this year as it has for the last 14 years. In fact, UCI President Pat McQuaid said that it is unlikely it will be the only French team at the race. This year, the race invited four French teams.
McQuaid said that the new rules guarantee the 18 ProTeams spots in the Grand Tours, including the Tour de France. Like last year Cofidis, and the other second division teams, will have to fight for one of the four wildcard invitations.
The upshot to the UCI's selection is that there are more non-traditional cycling countries in the first division. USA has four with BMC Racing, RadioShack, Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad; Great Britain has Sky and Russia has Katusha.
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