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Letters to Cyclingnews May 3, 2001
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Recent letters Tour selection special
Inevitably, the subject of most letters over the last 36 hours has been the selection of the final wildcards in this year's Tour de France, so we've turned this edition of the mailbag wholly over to that subject.
Most of our correspondents believe two of the selections were completely justified: nobody questions that Lotto and Euskatel have the runs on the board. But the remaining three are the source of massive controversy. CSC-World Online included because Jalabert might be fit, but Mercatone-Uno and Saeco excluded because they haven't done much this year? Vast hordes of French division two teams, but no Mercury-Viatel? And what of Coast?
Are French cycling fans really so shallow that they won't watch a race that's not full of French teams? Will it really help young French teams to have them chewed up and spat out by the Tour; to arrive in Paris decimated with more than half the team riding team cars not bikes? Should the UCI take more of a role in the wild card selections? Do more clear rules need to be set, and stuck to? You've raised all these questions and many, many more. Keep them coming.
Five Division 2 teams?
The selection committee has done a disservice to cycling by including five division II French teams. Leblanc has left out deserving teams at the expense of boosting French cycling. The Tour long ago lost its distinction as the French national tour, after all it is the most coveted of the Grand Tours. With its position on the racing calendar the TdF has a responsibility to field the best teams, not French pack filler. One of the selections is currently ranked 12th in Division II, yet Division I teams ranked 9, 11, 13 and 14 stay home.
With the inclusion of these lower grade teams, contenders with at least an outside chance like Zulle, Escartin, Pantani, Tonkov, Dufaux, and Gotti are excluded. Teams like Alessio (with almost twice as many Div II points as the highest ranking of the five inclusions) and Mercury-Viatel have clearly made early season performance a priority to make the grade. Alessio has won quite a few races and Mercury-Viatel has climbed from 20th at the beginning of the year to 11th. Saeco's Cipollini always adds excitement and flair to the bunch sprints.
There are reasons that those teams that were excluded didn't make it, but in every case there is sporting merit for their inclusion over the five Division II teams that were included.
Leblanc said that "we are looking for good performances from good teams." He certainly didn't adhere to that criterion.
What is going on? OK, so Mercatone-Uno haven't exactly set the world on fire in the early season, but at the very least Marco Pantani would give the key riders something to keep an eye on. But FdJ and Big Mat -- what will they contribute? Nine riders each and not a thing more. I thought the TdF organisers would have learnt from admitting Bonjour last year. I suppose they had to put in the extra team to make up for the drop outs in these weak French teams!
Too bad, I hope there will be some new blood creating excitement, because the Ullrich/Armstrong battle will hardly keep everyone glued to the screens through July.
This was probably the last chance to put these three riders, and past winners, up against each other and now its gone.
At least the Giro might be interesting, lets hope that Marco gets some form in time.
It is with the greatest disgust that I read the Tour Team selections. More irksome was reading some of the letters as to Postal's intentions. I believe the two topics are linked.
First off. I believe Leblanc suffers a loss of brain-balls connection. His brain knows what is right, but he does not have the balls to commit the act. Where is Mercury for the love of God?
Secondly, Leblanc even broaching the topic of Pantani was comical. Pantani has done squat to demonstrate his desire to "teach Armstrong a lesson". Of course, one could assume that the lesson taught was that Marco was a shrivelled-up freakish loser of a man with no desire at all to contribute to the sport of cycling. Then Cipollini, well, where the hell is he? Why not? Of course, here again, the brain-balls connection failure, two more French teams (no bias here).
Finally, the French get two teams that in all honesty have NO place in the Tour, but Postal's tactics are questioned in the Classics and are chastised for focusing on the Tour. Well, the last time I checked, Lance is on the way to a three-peat and while it remains a mystery to some readers here, a person who can win the Tour should ride in it. For those who carp that its not fair, I can't believe it. It's not fair that he is a better rider. Its not fair that he has to bow to the ego of mental pygmies whose only concern is getting to the benefit of French cycling. Whatever the hell that means.
Here is an idea, why not get a team and a rider that can challenge Lance and not two French teams that should not be there in the first dam place? Looks like we could kill two birds with one stone on that one.
J.M. Leblanc must be put on a leash before he ruins the greatest race in the world!
What a farce. Not only does Mercury not get selected, they add a FIFTH team and don't select them either. I wonder how many of the five second division teams will finish the race with less than four riders. Eight French teams, what a crock. Let's see how many of the French Tour riders are in the UCI top 100:
Now let's see how many Mercury riders are in the UCI top 100:
Furthermore, there are seven French Tour riders in ranked between 101 and 200, with Mercury having five riders ranked between 101 and 200. So, of the eight French teams (72 possible riders, of course many are not French) we have 13 riders in the UCI top 200.
In the one team bizarrely excluded, we have nine riders (an entire Tour team!) ranked in the top 200 worldwide.
The Tour de France was supposed to be the hardest race in the world featuring the world's best riders. Not anymore. Maybe J.M. Leblanc could boost French cycling further by having 19 French teams in the race next year. Maybe allow one composite team of the UCI top 100.
The selections of Lotto and Euskaltel-Euskadi were well-deserved based on the former's team performance so far this year, and the latter's stable of mountain specialists who should thrive in TdF 2001. I really don't have a problem with LeBlanc's inclusion of the two French teams considering their precarious financial situations, but to also invite CSC World Online based primarily on one rider while excluding more deserving teams such as Mercury-Viatel and Allessio is ridiculous. If the TdF organizers see fit to include CSC and Jalabert, how can Mercatone Uno and Saeco be excluded? Pantani and Cippolini are athletes that most cycling fans expect to see at the TDF. I agree that their teams probably didn't deserve spots in the Tour based on recent performances, but neither did Jaja's team. I guess LeBlanc and the French decided to have their cake and eat it too. To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it's too bad the most important bike race in the world happens to be in France.
As expected the French are looking out for themselves again, which for cycling fans around the world could mean a mediocre event. Mercury, who would certainly have won more than a few stages, was not chosen. Instead the choice goes to CSC, a team whose leader, Jalabert, will most likely be dropped on every climb for lack of form, let alone the fact the team has done nothing all year. BigMat, who will be lucky if half of the team reaches Paris, was selected. And let us not forget La Francaise des Jeux, or better known in the peloton as "Francaise des who?".
Now I'm not at all upset about Mercatone Uno. How could you be? The entire team is based around a big-mouthed ego, whoby the wayhas barely even finished a one-day race, let alone a major tour, since his blood levels have miraculously returned to normal human levels.
As for Saeco, their exclusion is unfortunate for riders like Paolo Savoldelli, who actually could do well, but glamour boy himself (Cipolini) has yet to successfully make it over the first cat 4 climb so you really can't justify inviting them just to have a few good photo shoots the first week.
Mercury may be running into sponsor trouble, but they have an enormously powerful team with more than one rider in their midst capable of making the top 10 GC (my last count was three), as well as a few stage winners. Going to and doing well in the Tour would certainly rectify any sponsor issues for the next year. The truth of the matter, they are from America, and we all know how the French feel about us playing a role in Le Tour for France.
In the latest issue of Pro Cycling magazine, Laurent Fignon was quoted as saying that the French members of the peloton are just "second rate riders at the moment...". I think his simple argument is that they're lazy and don't train hard enough. I tend to agree.
Gone are the days of the passionate, hungry, proud French riders like Fignon, Hinault, Duclos-Lassale, and others. There aren't even riders who show a slight hint of promise like the Pascal Linos, Thierry Claveyrolats, or Gilles Delions in years gone by. I know these riders may be a stretch, but beggars can't be choosers.
So by giving more wildcards to second division teams with mediocre riders (in general), M. Leblanc is hoping to help French cycling? These teams need a slap in the face and to be forced to earn their place in the world's biggest and best race, rather than receiving a handout. If he wants to help the French, then exclude the second rate teams to inspire their riders to work harder to become better cyclists. Then they can earn a place in the Tour by letting their legs do the talking.
And in my selfish little dream world... Perhaps the organizers of the GP races (with UCI points up for grabs) stateside can rally to invite more top European teams to come across the pond, throw the gloves off, and go mano e mano with each other... and with Mercury-Viatel.
I have to say, I am overjoyed at Leblanc's non-selections for the Tour de France. No one can make the argument stick that this or that team flat-out deserve selection to the Tour: it is, after all, a French institution and has never been managed in anything approaching democratic style.
The act of dismissing Pantani et al can only be applauded as cleansing and necessary. Saeco? It's time that you show what you are as a team, not merely as the scarlet-clad coterie of Mr. Cipollini.
But I save my loudest cheers (and yes I am American) for snipping Mercury-Viatel's hopes at the bud. I might feel for Petegem's pain, except that he has publicly decried the Tour; and we know, we all know, that LeMond can only have approached selection of his latest pet project as a foregone conclusion... I imagine Bernard Hinault at his Brittany homestead raising a toast to Leblanc for the timely execution of another pretender's arrogance, and I would gladly join with him in the salutation: only the French can be so magnificently, publicly, brutal and exact. Mercury-Viatel will have its Tour berth when Leblanc, in the manner of a true patron, has recognized that such will please the soul of the French people.
Vive La France!
Patrick P. Hartigan
Just a note to register my displeasure with Monsier Leblanc's wildcard picks. We have two, I repeat two, division II teams included while Saeco, Mercatone-Uno, and Mercury are ignored. And Leblanc says that politics doesn't enter into the decision process.
He obviously didn't do what was right for cycling, let alone, what was right for Le Tour.... Sad!
I think it's a disservice to cycling fans and the professional peloton that Team Coast was not selected for this year's Tour de France. Apart from the fact that Alex Zulle and Fernando Escartin are seasoned professionals who have provided a lot of excitement and class in previous Tours that have been marred by scandals and riders' protests, Team Coast is a relatively newly-formed Division I organization that shows some great potential. Perhaps the management shouldn't have taken the high road and should have lobbied with the 'blackmail' other teams used, citing that their sponsors would pull out if they didn't receive an invitation. Riders like Rolf Huser, Roland Meier, Niki Aebersold and Mauro Gianetti would have provided more than enough support through this shortened but more difficult 2001 Tour to place either Zulle or Escartin high in the GC. Where Zulle is a great time trialist and overall Grand Tour specialist, Escartin would have done well also in the high mountains and intermediate mountain stages. They would have complemented each other nicely in this version of Le Tour. I wonder where teams like Big Mat-Auber or Le Franciase de Jeux will place their top rider(s)?
Despite the fact that Zulle confessed to using EPO during the Festina affair, he deserves some respite from harsh judgements because he accepted his suspension right away and returned to the peloton with consistent riding and a clean bill of health since then. We've seen through Virenque's trial that almost anyone on Festina during the late 1990s would have been expected to use certain performance enhancing drugs as a result of their 'program.' Yet Festina is included (Of course! They're a French-based team!), while some of their former riders affected by the team's policy are left to suffer the consequences of the fallout, it seems, if past doping allegations have anything to do with not selecting teams, as in SaecoValli & Valli [Dufaux (Festina affair)]. Yet, Jean Delatour's Laurent Brochard was also part of the affair, if memory serves. Level the playing field, stop favouring less-deserving French teams for future Tours, please!
Remember that rainy moment in the 2000 Tour when Lance dropped the hammer on the best the world had to offer? It still gives me chills just thinking about it. Lance, Jan, Alex, Marco, and all the others were on the same road at the same time and the whole world got to watch as Phil called it blow by blow. We won't see it this year.
The big loser is the sport of cycling with the news that Pantani will not be starting in the Tour de France. No other cyclist excites the fans as much as Pantani does when the Tour reaches the mountains. When in top form he has the ability to drop everyone on a hard mountain climb. The fans want to see the best cyclists in the world competing for the general classification of the Tour de France. Pantani is one of the best stage race riders in the world and it is a tragedy that he will not be racing against Armstrong and Ullrich.
With eight French teams it is a Tour for France! And it's nine really as CSC-Worldline wouldn't have had a chance without Jalabert. You can argue endlessly regarding the virtues of the selection procedures but personally I think it stinks. To me Tour de France has been the race for the best riders. Sprinters duking it out in the early stages, climbers testing each other in the mountains, and GC riders sorting out who is the best of the best. Not so this year. Who can argue that he is the best sprinter if Cipollini is not present? Who can argue that he is the best climber if Pantani is not present? And if Pantani wins the Giro, couldn't he have done the same thing at the Tour? He has done it before. So what if Pantani's results have been pitiful so far this year, he has at least been racing. Last year he didn't even race at this time. Result at the Tour: two wins and probably the most exciting rider. Anyway it is not like Ullrich has been scorching the asphalt. The snubbing of the Italian rider could benefit the Giro, though. The Italians are the best riders and maybe the Giro should be the race where all the best riders race.
A Tour without Cipollini, Pantani, and Zullehow boring.
I can understand people's concerns over the newly announced Tour teams. However, I must point out that you must view this from Monsieur Leblanc's point of view. Since the Tour de France is held in France the majority of its audience is French. Since the audience is French, the majority of their sponsors are French. For example, Credit Lyonnais is a French bank. One would tend to think that more French people would watch, if they were watching French teams. It should have been downgraded, but not as far as it was. I don't believe it is the same level as Paris-Nice.
I have to say I have no sympathy with Pantaniif he hadn't got so dramatic on the road to Morzine last year and actually ridden with them till the Joux Plane and made another attack as he did in 1997 and finished the Tour then there might have been some justification.
I am going over this year and hoped to see the Ulrich/ Armstrong/ Pantani battles in the Mountains.
But the leaving out of Mercury and Saeco is inexcusablewe will just have to wait and see. As you say, it's the side battles and challenges to the top two that make the race. Shame that Heras isn't leading Kelme and Livingston the McCartneys.
Jalabert truly deserves a place in the Tour. The dominant French rider of the last ten years, 150+ victories? With Riis he will come back fresh from his injury and be competitive. He is one of the few top riders I truly admire and I am very happy he made it in. The "throwbacks" as some refer to anyone in pro cycling over the age of 29 are the guys that inspire us mere mortals to ride and love the sport. Its a shame that great champions and riders like Tonkov, Zulle, Escartin, Dufaux, Pantani, and Cipo won't be there this year.
It is very disappointing for the future of international professional cycling to see decisions made like that by Jean Marie Leblanc in connection with this year's TdF. The decision to give some preference to French teams is understandable, but it demeans the legitimate efforts (and expense) of other teams to give five of 21 spots to teams (other than the deserving French teams Festina, Credit Agricole and Cofidis) that have (a) zero chance of contesting for the GC; (b) zero chance of contesting for the green jersey (except maybe Kirsipuu and he is not French); (c) zero chance of contesting for the KOM; and (d) zero chance of contesting for the overall team title . The only role you will see riders from these five teams play is that of early, doomed breakaway attempts a la Jacky Durand, especially after the GC contenders are established.
Obviously as an American I would have loved to see Mercury selected as it appears they are more than deserving, especially because they have more UCI points than most teams and they have Greg LeMond as a participantis he less important than Bijarne Riis? But it is also bad for the Tour as a whole to exclude riders who have traditionally contributed to the excitement of the TdF such as Pantani and Cipollini. As one who has watched the Tour twice (Ireland 98 and France/Switzerland 2000) I can assure you that even the French fans (being knowledgeable) are more excited to see Pantani attacking the climbs or Cipollini contesting the sprint than to see weak French riders (often Division II) being blown off the back or coming in minutes down and eventually dropping out of the Tour. Having these weak riders in the Tour does nothing to improve the overall character or excitement of the race, even for fans of French teams as you can't much root for riders out of contention. If the French riders want to improve, they need to earn their way into the Tour.
This type of scandal is almost worse than the drug scandal because it is so obvious and unfair to the riders and teams who have made the appropriate investment and deserve a chance. Can anyone (including Jean Marie Leblanc) tell me that Big Mat deserves a place? How about Jean Delatour ? Or Bonjour ? Or Francaise des Jeux ? Perhaps including one of these teams to make it five French teams would be defensible, but to include all of them is simply a shameful charade that should be prevented from ever happening again. There is simply too much at stake for the riders and the teams to allow not only subjectivity, but blatant and unfair bias.
That's my 20 cents-worth, but it confirms for certain that I will not be going to the Tour this year to watch, even though I have a plane reservation and was hoping to go again.
Thomas N. FitzGibbon
What the hell has M. LeBlanc been smoking? I'm sure the "rule of The Law over the intent of law" types out there will try to roast me for this, but Pantani's done his penance: he's a doper and has paid the bill for his deeds. Recall that he was ousted from the Giro, while wearing the Maglia Rosa. Talk about a fall from grace! He's been mercilessly dragged through the mud for the last several years by the courts and media. I respect the guy for remaining in the professional entertainment business that is pro road racing, after all the calumnies that have been heaped upon him.
Thinking back a bit, I seem to recall that Pantani is also a former winner of the Tour and even created the only interest last year by putting the hurt on some people on some climbs. Thinking a bit harder, I seem to recall that he was the only really interesting counterpoint in last year's Tour. He may have even won some stuff, and raised a few hackles, before dropping out. Cipo does the same thing, only he does it at the beginning of the Tour and doesn't cause as much damage before he drops out.
Would Miguel Indurain have ever been excluded from the Tour because his spring campaign stunk?
Heck, thinking back a bit more, I seem to recall that Pantani has a decent record of creating excitement in the Tour. I recall the time he rode everyone off his wheel on Alpe d'Huez, to win the stage, after leading bottom to top. Last year he won a mountain stage, apparently "gifted" to him by Armstrong, then talked trash to Lance! Has Jaja ever had the chutzpah to do this?
Jalabert's great, but his best years seem to have passed him. His glory years in the Tour were when he was a pure sprinter. This is out of the memory of all, but the most hardy fan of cycling. I still think he's good, but the impact he'll make on the Tour is not nearly the impact that Pantani could make.
Jalabert is impassive, an Indurain without the Tour victories. Pantani is passionate: he entertains us by doing and saying outrageous things. He maintains his credibility by actually performing on a timely basis. Pantani has character and understands that his bread is buttered by creating excitement and controversy. Who wants to see someone ride intelligently to finish inside the top ten in the Tour? I want to see someone put it all on the line for the overall victory, gambling big to win big or bust! Not only that, I want some colour while they're doing it.
Pantani's got it. Jalabert doesn't.
Reactions, reactions, reactions ... there is always some form of reaction when choices have to be made. My reaction to the TDF final selections:
Firstly there does not seem to be clear rules and selection criteria. It must be written, communicated and strictly followed. Division one is division one. How can you mix both? I don't see it any other sport.
You want to give teams a chance? Give them a shot at division one first, they have to climb the ladder. To be in the Tour you have to be the best of the best not second best of the best. If you are in the first division, then you deserve to be there and fight not to be kicked off into a lower rank.
Big Mat, Francaise des Jeux over Saeco and Mercatone? Let's get serious here. An out of shape Pantani or Cipo can raise a lot of havoc in the peloton. That we know from experience and not by guess work. So Leblanc and Riis should knock off the in-shape-out-of-shape thing. If Riis says Pantani is not in shape or will not be until the TDF then how can he say Jaja will be?
This is how all other sports function and there is no fighting about inclusion or exclusion. Clear rules will improve the sport because teams will know what has to be done to be included in a major tour. Right now teams in the first division sit and don't do much and expect to be in a major tour, and there comes a bunch of Mister Second Divisions being selected before them. Just because they are French, Jamaican, Italian, Cuban or WHATEVER they are, does not give them the right to be automatically included. Let them climb the ladder to be included. This will make them work harder and smarter and thus improve competitiveness. If second division teams can ride in the Tour, especially if they are French, they don't have to improve much to be included. Do they? Now just how are you helping the sport?
Imagine if the Olympic games were like that. Allowing France only one athlete per event, and the other nations two or three athletes. What then I ask you?
Stop killing the sport. Stop favouritism. Those who deserve, should receive. And not hope to receive. Fitness cannot be projected. You cannot give me an excuse that X will not be in shape in two months' time, because X has not done well yesterday. We train to be in better shape for certain events. Imagine if the IOC said that because Ullrich did not complete the Vuelta then he would not be in shape for the Olympics. That would be very bad speculation.
Leblanc should get his act together. "UCI" has an "I" at the end, meaning International. In other words, no favourites. Clear guidelines and rules must be set and communicated. We shouldn't be making them up as we go along because choices differ.
Many thanks to the Cyclingnews team for bringing us the news.
I'm a big fan of cycling, and most of all; I love the Tour de France. Every summer I spend a lot of hours watching le Tour. But, right now I feel like my love has taken a serious blow. What on earth are the Tour organisers doing? The omission of Saeco, Mercatone-Uno and Mercury-Viatel is one of the biggest scandals in the world of sport. I mean, what would happening if the organisers of the football world cup said that to protect the interest of European football we are choosing to let Austria take part, but Brazil is not chosen? If you have the best and biggest showcase of your sport, then you should protect this. The biggest reason why the TdF has been the number one showcase of cycling and one of the greatest sporting events overall is because it is a fantastic event where all of the best cyclists take part. The TdF' 01 will be without Cippolini, Pantani, Dufaux, Zulle, Escartin and so on. That's a shame! Think about it; when Zabel, Steels or Blijlevens is winning the first week stages, everyone will ask: what if Cipollini had been there? On the mountain stages we all will miss Pantani, without him; who will attack Armstrong or Ullrich? And the likes of Zulle, Escartin and Dufaux have been a part of the TdF for years and just deserve to take part.
I understand that some French teams should take part, after all the race is theirs. But eight of them? If they all had been good teams, maybe. But Cofidis is the only French team that is clearly top calibre. Credit Agricole and Festina are okay but still weaker then Saeco or Mercury. The rest of them are simply not good enough for le Tour, and everyone who follows cycling know that that's the objective way to see it. The UCI should be included in the selection committee, if not the race we all love will loose its status as one of the top sporting events.
The Tour De France wildcard selections are exactly that aren't they? Wild.
Keep up the good work.
The last month's letters