UCI WorldTour points have proved a valuable commodity for riders searching for teams in the final weeks of the season, but Geoffroy Lequatre believes that the fabric of the sport risks being irrevocably damaged unless changes are made to the current system.
Lequatre endured a late scramble for a new team following the announcement of the merger of RadioShack and Leopard Trek in September. After two years of resolute service as a domestique with RadioShack, he had precious few WorldTour points clocked up, and found it difficult to stoke the interest of teams finalising their applications for entry into cycling’s top flight
“At the end of the season, all of the teams were hunting for riders, and the riders were hunting for teams, but when you have zero points or very few points, it’s really difficult,” Lequatre told Cyclingnews.
Although he has since found a place with Pro Continental outfit Bretagne-Schuller for 2012, Lequatre is concerned that riders have increasingly less incentive to work as domestiques for their leaders, and will have to ride more selfishly in order to continue at WorldTour level.
Currently, the UCI assesses the WorldTour applicants’ “sporting value” by tallying the points of their top 15 ranked riders along with their own team standings points.
“Next season will be interesting, because riders will start to think differently,” Lequatre said. “Everybody will be riding just to chase points, especially at the end of the season.
“People will ride for themselves instead of for their leaders, because they need to adapt themselves if they want to continue. It could really change the mentality in cycling.”
In Lequatre’s view, the only domestiques with a modicum of job security are those few closely allied to the biggest leaders in the sport. “If the leader wants to keep his teammates, it can work sometimes, but in reality there are not too many of those real, real leaders,” he said.
“Everybody needs space. There should be room for everybody – sprinters, climbers, time triallists, stage racers and also people who work.”
Lequatre has proposed a novel solution to the paradox that often sees riders surplus to requirements at a team expressly because of the work they have done for the cause.
“Even if you help someone win the Tour de France, you don’t get any points,” he said. “I think if a leader wins a race, some of the points should go to the riders who rode for him. It’s what already happens with prize money and we need some system like that for points. We need to find balance.
“When you see cycling on TV, it looks like something really human. Within cycling, it’s not human like that. It’s a real business, people look out for themselves, and it can be two-faced.”
A new start at Bretagne-Schuller
Lequatre only learned of the proposed merger between RadioShack and Leopard Trek in September, and soon realised that he would not have a place on the revamped team.
“It wasn’t easy to focus and finish the Vuelta,” he admitted. “In the end it was clear. My contract was ending and [Johan Bruyneel] wasn’t able to give me a new one because there wasn’t room. It wasn’t so easy to accept, because I think I did a great job for the team, and I also took my own opportunities when I could.”
The last of those opportunities came at Paris-Tours, a race close to the heart of the Pithiviers native. Part of the break of the day, he finished in 7th place. “If I had last year’s legs, I could have been up there with [winner Greg] Van Avermaet, but I still showed I was strong.”
The following week, Lequatre signed with Bretagne-Schuller, attracted by the progress made by the Pro Continental outfit in the past couple of seasons. After two years in RadioShack’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, Lequatre is confident that he can bring something new to the table at the French team, even if – for now – the squad will not be supplied by his G4 Dimension clothing company.
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“RadioShack had big ambitions because it was one of the biggest teams in the world, but Bretagne-Schuller is very ambitious too,” he said. “Maybe with Bretagne-Schuller, there isn’t the same pressure to be there all year like at RadioShack or to be world number one, but we still want to progress. I think there might be a little more freedom and less stress, and I feel my experience can help the team.”
After earning invitations to Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice in 2011, Bretagne-Schuller is hopeful of progressing to ride in the Tour de France in the next two seasons. Much will depend on how many French teams gain WorldTour status and automatic entry to the Tour.
“Everything is possible, why not?” Lequatre said of a possible invitation in 2012. “Saur-Sojasun got one last year. That’s ambition, and you need to have that. When you have it, it’s possible.
“We’ll need to race well early in the season, not just in France, but abroad too. If we don’t get a Tour invitation in 2012, then for sure it will happen in 2013. We have ambition, and I want to give my energy and my happiness to the team next year.”