Notoriously one of the most hard-up teams in professional cycling, Team Europcar are taking a novel approach to balancing the books this year.
Rumours are escalating that Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's squad are relying on prize money from the intermediate sprints to fund next season's entire budget. So far, the French Pro-Continental team have been on the offensive each day, taking three of four sprints.
Yohann Gene (stage one), Christophe Kern (stage two) and Yukiya Arashiro (stage four) have each earned the team €1,500 while Giovanni Bernaudeau added €1,000 into the tin for his second place in the intermediate sprint in stage three.
"The guys were a bit annoyed with Gio only managing second place in an uncontested sprint because it meant the budget was down €500 for next season and this is something that affects the livelihood of the entire team," an unnamed Team Europcar insider told Saddles.
"But the boss chatted to the guys and reminded them that Gio rides in the team for free. You see that's the condition of him being in the squad — being the son of the team manager, he's a cheap option to make up numbers," the insider continued.
Japanese rider Arashiro is currently a popular man after picking up a bonus prize for the most aggressive rider in stage four — instantly adding €2,000 to Team Europcar's coffers for next season (in other words, Vincent Jerome and Davide Malacarne's combined monthly salary).
Getting into every day's breakaway has emerged a huge priority for the team, which this season was living in relative luxury thanks to the monetary windfall that came from Thomas Voeckler's ten days in yellow and Pierre Rolland's white jersey in Paris.
"The riders have grown accustomed foie gras baguettes in their lunch musettes and have no desire to return to the usual Laughing Cow cheese brioches," said Saddles's insider.
"The 2012 budget was boosted by €350 a day for Thomas's maillot jaune and the huge €20,000 cheque that came in the post after Pierre secured the maillot blanc in Paris."
It is thought that those €20,000 have allowed the team to make the key signing of Rafaa Chtioui — plus brought about the purchase of some new bath tubs at the team's Vendee base.
"The management have persuaded Voeckler to ride on a smaller salary because they told him the only team interested in his signature was Cofidis. This made Tommy agree to a 50 per cent wage reduction," the insider continued.
The team's main sponsor, Europcar, has also promised the 5% of all vehicle hire bookings made during the hours in which the team's riders are featured in breaks — hence the lofty levels of dark green we have been seeing off the front of the peloton.
Bernaudeau is holding out for something he describes as a "Star Wars Bonanza" — as explains our mole: "You know the George Lucas films? Well, one of the actors — I forget which one — asked to be paid in a percentage of gross profit and not a lump sum. In the end, he was laughing all the way to the bank."
The team is apparently holding out for a surge of car rental bookings coinciding with the combination of good-looking Europcar riders strutting their stuff through some of the most picturesque parts of the French countryside.
"That is why Cyril Gautier has been told to hold back from attacking. He will get his chance when it's really misty and the race is passing through an ugly industrial area which will cast him in a more favourable light."
After both crashing heavily in stage one, the 2012 Tour has been rather an ordeal for Quick Step's Tony Martin and Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez. Still, every cloud as a silver lining: the two riders are reported to have struck up a close friendship after spending most days riding alongside one another on the back of the peloton.
Martin has been regaling Sanchez about his young days in the scouts while the Spaniard has promised to give the German his mothers' paella recipe once he can grip a pen again.
"It's rather sweet," says the Insider, "they even share their lunches together — each helping one another to unwrap sandwiches and tear open energy gels. Once, they even shared a banana. It's just a shame that they both have such sore wrists."
The blossoming friendship took a new dynamic on Wednesday with the addition of a third rider, Garmin's Tom Danielson, who suffered a separated shoulder on stage three to Boulogne. "It's now a veritable love triangle — but Tom's taking things easy. He's wary of being hurt after already suffering one separation in this year's race."
There's certainly no love in the air for France's Brice Feillu, however. The Saur-Sojasun climber has been suffering from gastroenteritis for the past few days and has had a temperature of 42 degrees.
Such is his illness, his team has put him under quarantine, meaning Feillu has to do everything on his own. There is one obvious solution to this sorry tale: Saur-Sojasun should stay in the same hotel as Argos-Shimano — that way Feillu and Marcel Kittel could have their very own love story, albeit a rather smelly one.
After all, Feillu is already bringing up the rear as the race's Lanterne Rouge...
*** UPDATE *** - None of the above is true
Saddles has been asked to point out that none of the above is true, and was merely a joke.
So here goes: None of the above is true, and was merely a joke. (Apart from this bit at the end about the rest not being true, that is.)
- Sports & Recreation