While the spotlight is on Angelo Zomegnan, the boss of the Giro d?Italia, Christian Prudhomme is waiting in the wings to reveal the teams that will take part in the 2008 Tour de France.
ASO, the race organiser, has a completely free hand and, with an announcement anticipated early as next week (although it wouldn?t be a surprise if it happened any day now), thoughts must turn to the Tour and who will be the lucky recipients.
In many ways it?s a throwback to the days before the ProTour. Flawed though the UCI?s system was, at least it guaranteed the biggest teams a place in the biggest races without an unseemly scrabble. The top teams bolstered their rosters to cope with three grand tours each season ? but one or two of them now look as if they will struggle to give all their riders enough racing if they are left out of one major race or other.
The Giro has sent a firm message that it will decide which teams are fit to take part. Prudhomme looks set to make a similarly strong stance, saying that if there are to be omissions, entire teams will be left in the cold, not just individual riders.
HOW MANY TEAMS?
The number of teams taking part in the Tour in recent years
It?s anyone?s guess how many teams Prudhomme will invite in the first instance.
It seems certain six French teams will get a place. The other ProTour teams would feel aggrieved to be left out. Barloworld and Slipstream look likely to get wild card places.
And that leaves High Road and Astana. If Prudhomme opts to invite 20 teams they will be vulnerable.
Unlike in Italy, Prudhomme does not have a bunch of small but relatively strong Pro Continental squads to choose from.
So if he leaves out High Road or Astana it won?t be because of logistical reasons ? it?ll be a deliberate, politically-motivated snub.
The five French teams in the ProTour are guaranteed their place. Agritubel are not in the ProTour but their spot in the Tour looks secure, particularly as they have French champion Christophe Moreau and up-and-coming sprinter Romain Feillu
Française des Jeux
It would take a bizarre set of circumstances to deny any of these four a place.
Caisse d?Epargne Perhaps the most precarious because of the controversy surrounding Alejandro Valverde refuses to die completely ? however, the fact the sponsor is a French company should swing it
Quick Step They?re never going to leave out mutiple stage winner and green jersey holder Tom Boonen
Silence-Lotto Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen ensure the team is competitive overall and in the sprints
CSC After a sticky patch last July, when Christian Prudhomme stripped Bjarne Riis of his 1996 Tour title and stated he was not welcome at the race, relations have defrosted considerably. CSC are now a year into their new testing regime, carried out independently by Ramsus Damsgaard
All being equal these ProTour teams will be among the starters in Brest ? but there are no guarantees
Euskaltel-Euskadi Leaving Samuel Sanchez out last year didn?t impress Prudhomme. Always feature in the overall standings but Prudhomme will want to be sure Euskaltel take their top man this time
Gerolsteiner Caught in the crossfire between the German TV stations and the Tour following Patrik Sinkewitz?s (T-Mobile) positive test. Exclusion this year would be extremely harsh on Hans Michael Holczer ? one of the most outspoken against doping
Lampre Word has it the French are not impressed by Crédit Agricole?s omission from the Giro. There is also the worry that Thor Hushovd may also be denied a shot at Milan-San Remo by RCS. What?s this got to do with Lampre? Well, if the French wanted to gain a minor revenge by leaving out an Italian squad, they would be it. Damiano Cunego is unlikely to make the Tour his priority, they no longer have double stage winner Daniele Bennati, and the recent issue over being absent from their hotel when the surprise testers called won?t count in the team?s favour
Liquigas Look safe after signing Bennati, who won in Castelsarrasin and on the Champs-Elysées last year
Rabobank The Rasmussen Affair and subsequent farce that shrouded last year?s Tour was a terrible blight on the Tour. They won few friends but the sacking of the Dane and resignation of manager Theo De Rooy should ensure their position in the Tour
Saunier Duval With Riccardo Ricco focusing on the Giro, Saunier Duval could be vulnerable. The rest, such as Juan Jose Cobo and Jose Angel Gomez Marchante, are hyped but don?t do too well outside Spain
Milram If it comes down to performance in the Tour, Milram look shakiest of this lot. Erik Zabel is past it, Alessandro Petacchi will focus on the Giro and they don?t have a lot more to offer
|LIKELY WILD CARDS|
Barloworld Surely nailed on after Robert Hunter and Juan Mauricio Soler?s heroics last year. For a wild card team to take two stages and the king of the mountains jersey was a superb performance
Slipstream All the signs are Jonathan Vaughters? boys will be in. They have a strong anti-doping ethos and testing procedure and plenty of Tour pedigree in David Millar, Magnus Backstedt and David Zabriskie
Team High Road After the Giro?s bombshell Bob Stapleton and co will be waiting anxiously to see if Prudhomme follows suit. We can?t see it, somehow. If Rolf Aldag?s presence really is a sticking point, there are plenty of other teams that?ll be looking for new management
Astana Better get that application for the Tour of Qinghai Lake in quick. Johan Bruyneel states that he has three of the best stage racers in the world ? including the defending Tour champion Alberto Contador. But that seems to count for little inside ASO?s headquarters. ?Astana? is a dirty word in Paris after last year and the question is whether enough has been done to make amends
Prudhomme suggested that the Breton team, Bretagne-Armor Lux, would be welcome at the Tour, considering it starts in Brittany. Their directeur sportif says it?s not a good idea. These two tiny French Continental-ranked squads have very small rosters. If Prudhomme wanted to make mischief he could invite them but they?re even smaller than the smallest team Zomegnan has accepted into the Giro. It?s unthinkable that any of the foreign Professional Continental teams would merit a place
Acqua & Sapone
PICTURE The day Astana were asked to leave the 2007 Tour de France following Alexandre Vinokourov’s positive dope test. Will they be invited back this year?