Team Europcar granted UCI World Tour status for 2014
The days of relying upon invitations to the major races is over after Team Europcar were named among the 18 WorldTour teams confirmed for 2014.
Europcar was named in the second wave of WorldTour teams to be announced on Wednesday, alongside Astana, Lampre-Merida, Movistar, Orica-GreenEdge, Sky, Argos-Shimano and Trek Factory Racing. Last month Ag2R-La Mondiale, Belkin, BMC, Cannondale, FDJ.fr, Garmin-Sharp, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Katusha, Tinkoff-Saxo and Lotto Belisol were confirmed at cycling's top table.
Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's squad are now certain to participate in the 25 biggest races next season, including the three major Grand Tours.
"I am very proud for my riders because they deserve to be in the WorldTour," said an ecstatic Jean-Rene Bernaudeau. "We have been working away for years to be at the top level in cycling and our promotion into the WorldTour is a reward for all the efforts of the team. We were voted best team of the Europe Tour [cycling's second division] by the UCI last season, with 26 victories and 49 podium finishes in 2013."
Following the disbanding of both Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM, Europcar is the only new addition to the WorldTour roster, which will return to the usual 18 teams for the forthcoming season.
It is the first time in four years that Bernaudeau will not have to rely on wildcard entries for events such as the Tour de France. Meanwhile, it opens doors to the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana which had previously been closed for big name riders such as Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland.
The last time Team Europcar were involved in a major three-week stage race other than the Tour de France was for the 2010 Vuelta a Espana.
"Now we will be able to plan a personalised race programme for each of our riders," directeur sportif Andy Flickinger told L'Equipe. "In recent years we have only done the Tour, which involved just nine out of 25 riders and caused a lot of frustration. This time, everyone will have a chance to ride a Grand Tour."
Voeckler has already been pencilled in for the Vuelta as part of his preparations for the World Championships in Ponderrada. Double Tour de France stage winner Rolland could well ride Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Suisse ahead of the Grande Boucle - alternating from his usual warm-up programme of Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine. The Tour, once again, is likely to see both riders spearhead Europcar's assault on stage wins and the GC.
Bernaudeau said he was "happy" to share the news with the team's main sponsor, Europcar, "who have been with us for three years now and who have only recently renewed their support and trust in us with a new agreement".
"Europcar is extremely proud that Team Europcar will join the top tier of world cycling in 2014," said Marcus Bernhardt, the commercial director of the global car hire company.
"The development of the team, particularly on the international level, has always been one of our main objectives and we welcome this news with open arms. It's is worthy pay-back for the sporting performances of Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's team."
News that Team Europcar had been given the green light by the UCI was followed by the confirmation that Canadian youngster Antoine Duschesne had signed a contract with the team.
Europcar's riders are currently on an eight-day training camp in Salou, Spain. After a break for Christmas, the 2014 season will now start a little earlier than usual with the week-long Tour Down Under, which runs 19-26 January in and around the Australian city of Adelaide.