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No Bardet, no Dumoulin, no Yates: Is ASO its own worst enemy?

Joe Robinson
21 Nov 2018

While ASO thinks of ideas to disrupt Team Sky's Tour de France domination it has seen the world's best fall from its grasp

You would not be wrong in assuming that ASO's worst enemy is Team Sky. As at six of the last seven editions of its marquee event, the Tour de France, the British WorldTour team have reigned supreme. 

Since Bradley Wiggins in 2012, Dave Brailsford's men have barely missed a beat at the Grande Boucle, much to the displeasure of the impatient French public, those concerned with Team Sky's 'grey' past and most importantly ASO.

So much so, that race director Christian Prudhomme has made no secret that he has attempted to manipulate the Tour in the favour of others to break this stranglehold.

Firstly through the reduction of individual time trials, a strength for all three Sky Tour winners, then through the introduction of 65km mountain stages, F1 gridded starts and more Roubaix cobbles.

Then most recently it was the plea to the UCI for the banning of power meters, the weapon that Prudhomme considers crucial to Sky's success, a plan that even UCI president David Lappartient is liking the sound of

However in ASO's desperate search to find solutions to its Team Sky problem it seems to have ignored its obvious solution as those riders who posed the biggest threat to Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, one after one, announce their disinterest in riding the Tour.

Tom Dumoulin is the closest anybody has come to toppling Sky in recent years, finishing second this season behind Team Sky riders at both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and is probably Froome and Thomas's most fierce adversary.

Yet with just 27 individual kilometres against the clock and numerous 2,000m summit finishes, Team Sunweb's leader has cast doubt over Tour participation, speaking to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

Dumoulin labelled the 2019 route as 'far from ideal' adding that, 'I don’t think there has been a Grand Tour in recent years that fits my profile so badly.'

Instead, he mooted the idea of riding the Giro with its three individual time trials, including a rolling 34.7km test from Riccione to San Marino, so suited to the Dutchman that he even commented that 'in every respect, the Giro is much better for me.'

Mounting on top of this potential Dumoulin absence is also the threat of a Romain Bardet defection. 

Many have argued that the reduction in time trial kilometres and inclusion of shorter mountain stages in recent Tours have been to cater to Bardet in the hope of ending France's 34 year wait for a yellow jersey.

However, this seems to have backfired with French newspaper L'Equipe now reporting that the AG2R La Mondiale man has turned his head, with the Giro being his Grand Tour of choice in 2019 and not the Tour.

Having come away empty-handed in six Tour attempts, Bardet acknowledged at last week's Shanghai Criterium that he is in his physical prime and that maybe he is better placed to chase the pink of the Giro rather than the yellow of the Tour. 

It also comes as no help that the Tour still contains a 27km team time trial, a stage guaranteed to see Team Sky bank seconds, maybe even minutes on Bardet and his men.

Finally, the only man to win a Grand Tour and not ride for Team Sky last season, Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates, is also going to be absent from the Tour with the rider immediately stating that 'my gut feeling is that I’d like to go back to the Giro because I have unfinished business there' after winning the 2018 Vuelta following a capitulation at the Giro. 

Yates has shown little interest in turning towards the Tour and with a manager as pragmatic as Matt White at the helm, it is unlikely the man from Bury will be forced into biting off more than he can chew too soon.

The only thing we know for certain is that come day one of the Tour in Brussels, both Froome and Thomas will be on the starting line with team director Nico Portal confirming both riders have their eyes set on the yellow prize. 

And flanked by six of the world's strongest and well-paid domestiques, with the hope of another Tour title, it's hard to see past yet another victory.

It seems that while ASO has been looking at ways to stop Team Sky from winning another Tour de France it has lost sight of the important things, like attracting the world's best riders to its race, and in many ways replaced Team Sky as its own worst enemy.