Agritubel and Comunitat Valenciana get Tour places

Thursday, March 2, 2006 12.00am
The Tour wild cards are announced and it's no surprise to hear that French team Agritubel have been

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Tour de France organisers ASO have announced that the French Agritubel and the Spanish Comunitat Valenciana teams have been awarded the two wild card places for this year's race. These two squads will join the 20 ProTour teams in this July's race, each lining up with nine riders for a total field of 198 riders.

Agritubel are likely to be led by 2004 Tour stage-winner Juan Miguel Mercado, while Comunitat Valenciana will almost certainly feature Ruben Plaza, sixth at last year's Vuelta and fourth in the world time trial championship.

The news of the two teams' acceptance came just 24 hours after Comunitat Valenciana had learned that they were being offered one of two wild card places at this year's Vuelta. The other went to the Spanish Relax-GAM team.

"The team's performance in 2005 was exceptional," said CV team boss Vicente Belda, who has been highly critical of his team's non-selection in recent editions of the Tour and Giro. "The news has generated a lot of excitement in the team, we were very nervous in the hours beforehand wondering what the result would be, but it turned out positively for us."

Speaking to Marca, Belda referred to the damage the 'Manzano affair' had done to his team. "If it hadn't been for that we would have been in the 2004 Tour," he said of former rider Jesus Manzano's allegations in early 2004 of systematic doping within what was previously the Kelme team. "We were badly hit because there was problems with sponsors, with our calendar, but we've turned things around and shown that we are still around despite the Manzano case," he said.

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