Having participated in the French road cycling championship, Sunday June 26, in Cholet (Maine-et-Loire) does not guarantee a place at the start of the Tour de France, on July 1, in Copenhagen. Julian Alaphilippe made the bitter experience of it. As he signed his return from injury and hoped to win his bet to participate in the Grande Boucle, the double French world champion, seriously injured two months ago on the classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, was deemed insufficiently recovered by leading his team, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. The rainbow jersey will be absent from the peloton for the first time since Italian Alessandro Ballan in 2009.
Alaphilippe’s companion, the outgoing French champion Rémi Cavagna is not one of the eight riders called up to join the “Wolfpack”, the nickname of the Belgian team. More fortunate, Florian Sénéchal, new wearer of the blue-white-red jersey, first a reservist for the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team, only owes his participation in the Tour to the Covid package of his Belgian teammate Tim Declercq.
No risk before the start of the Tour
However, these disappointments are not exclusive to French runners. This year, for the 109th edition of the Tour de France, only three riders – apart from the time trial specialists, most of whom are there – who have triumphed in their road championship will be at the start of the three race weeks (July 1-24). A total much lower than that of the last five editions, which had brought together between seven (in 2018) and eleven distinctive national jerseys (in 2017).
In addition to Florian Sénéchal, the whimsical sprinter Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), champion of Slovakia for the eighth time in his career and the adventurer Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), surprise winner of the German road event, will be part of the peloton at the start. from Copenhagen.
Just crowned British champion, sprinter Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) learned of his non-selection for the Tour de France, where he hoped to claim a 35th stage victory which would have allowed him to surpass the legend Eddy Merckx. The Briton is not the only one to remain at the dock. The Belgian Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), the Dutchman Pascal Eenkhoorn (Jumbo-Visma) or the Dane Alexander Kamp (Trek-Segafredo), although champions of their respective countries, will not see the roads of Denmark either or those of France in July.
The reason ? The stars of the peloton have often preferred to skip the domestic events to save themselves for the Tour. This is the case of the Slovenians Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates), double winner out of the Tour, who took no risk a few days before the big start.
“A fundamental question arises”
A caution shared by the two versatile runners Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), or even by the star sprinters Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) . As for the Tricolores, Romain Bardet (DSM), Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) – eagerly awaited on the Tour – were not aligned for the online event on Sunday in Cholet. “We made the choice not to run Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu to take no risk, given the health situation,” said their sports director, Benoît Vaugrenard, to the regional daily Ouest-France.
These increasingly frequent deadlocks in the domestic championships – the riders are encouraged to do so by their teams – raise questions. Michel Callot believes it is time to act. “Despite potential hazards, in particular due to the resurgence of Covid-19 and the early start of the Tour to Friday, a real fundamental question arises”, argues the president of the French Cycling Federation (FFC). A “bad reflex of the teams”, he laments, which could “totally devalue the national championships” if it is repeated.
Riders are supposed to be compelled to compete in their domestic championships, but no penalties are provided by federal regulations. “We have to think about this question at the level of the International Cycling Union [UCI], explains Michel Callot. We should meet and discuss it with the management of the professional teams. In any case, I don’t want to punish the French teams on my side, if nothing is put in place in the other countries. It would be unfair. »
In the meantime, the French spectators massed on the edges of the roads will be, with the absence of Julian Alaphilippe, deprived of one of the national darlings, but will be able to applaud the new champion of France, Florian Sénéchal, the last minute draft.