|Nacer Bouhanni wins Stage 1 at Criterium du Daphine (Bettini Photo)|
Tour de France organiser ASO has named the four wild card invitations to this year’s race, with French squads Cofidis, Fortuneo-Vital Concept and Belgium’s Wanty-Groupe Gobert securing the precious invitations to the biggest race of the season.
This year’s Tour de France starts in Dusseldorf, Germany on July 1 and ends in Paris on July 23. It follows an unconventional route that includes stages in all of France's mountain ranges but with only an opening 13km time trial in Dusseldorf and a final 23km time trial in Marseille on stage 20.
As with WorldTour rules, the 18 WorldTour teams are automatically invited, meaning there will again be 22 teams in action in the Tour de France.
The 18 WorldTour teams are: AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, Bahrain – Merida, BMC, Bora – Hansgrohe, Cannondale Drapac, FDJ, Lotto Soudal, Movistar, Orica – Scott, Quick-Step Floors, Dimension Data, Katusha – Alpecin, Lotto NL – Jumbo, Team Sky, Team Sunweb, Trek – Segafredo (USA) and UAE Abu Dhabi.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) will target a fourth victory in July, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) confirming he will take on the Briton after also riding the Giro d’Italia. Other expected contenders are Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Richie Porte (BMC) and Romain Bardet (AG2r-La Mondiale).
The wild card invitation for Direct Energie means that Thomas Voeckler will be able to ride a final Tour de France before retiring and Bryan Coquard can contest the sprint finishes.
Nacer Bouhanni is also expected to fight in the sprints thanks to Cofidis’ wild card. The presence of Fortuneo-Vital Concept should see Britain’s Dan Mclay back in the Tour. He impressed by taking third on stage 6 behind Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish in 2016.
The presence of Wanty-Grope Gobert is arguably the biggest surprise. However the Belgian team has beefed up its roster for 2017 and the demise of several teams left ASO with little choice.
New Irish team Aqua Blue Sport could be disappointed at missing out but the Tour de France would have been a massive step for the team in its first year despite an experienced roster.
Wanty Groupe Gobert quickly celebrated their selection on social media. It is the first time the Belgian squad rides the Tour de France but has added Wesley Kreder, Yohann Offredo, Andrea Pasqualon and Guillaume van Keirsbulck to its roster.
Teams for Paris-Nice and Criterium di Dauphine
ASO also named the wild card teams for Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine, with Delko Marseille Provence getting one of the four wild cards along with Cofidis, Direct Energie and Fortuneo – Vital Concept.
Delko Marseille Provence will also ride the Criterium du Dauphine alongside Cofidis, Direct Energie and Wanty-Groupe Gobert, with Fortune missing out on a place in the June stage race.
Article Source: Cycling News