Letters to Cyclingnews May 9, 2001
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Recent letters Tour selection special
Letters continue to flood in about the Tour wildcard selection. Today, we'll put as many of them up as possible, in installments. Without further ado, here is the first batch
Foreign teams should abandon
Anyone criticising CSC's selection should bear in mind that they did some good classics (especially Vlaanderen), that Leblanc owes a lot to Bjarne Riis (the continuation of the Tour '98?) and some guys who can make a good GC (Hamburger, Garcia) and some good stages (Sörensen, Piziks, Hoffman, Jalabert)
Just think about the uproar that it would cause if the French developers of this software intentionally left out Pantani, Cipollini, Dufaux, Zulle, Escartin, Tonkov, Van Petegem and all the others on the snubbed Division I Teams. Far fewer people would buy the simulation because it would be an unrealistic representation of reality.
I wonder how many of the French Division II teams will be represented in the final game? If it's all of them, then I suggest that someone buy a copy for Monsieur LeBlanc, so he can play his own virtual "Tour for France" next year and we can watch the real Tour de France.
I can hardly believe that his efforts on the road since '94 don't make him a worthy participant in this year's Tour. Actually I think he had a fair chance of winning it, considering the profiles of the stages.
In my opinion the man is perhaps the greatest climber the world has ever seen. The Tour this year will be different. Pantani is missing.
Also, I do not understand that the powerful red train was beaten by some French minor teams. Who decides that Saeco is a team for Giro? As a matter of fact, Cipollini brought "le maillot pour le Quatorze Juillet (jersey for 14 July festival)" or the Julius Caesar's jersey for the Tour and used to show off his special jerseys. Cipo was enjoying himself during the Tour and it is strange that the third party decides that the team is geared for the Giro. One thing sure is that the wild card selection was decided due to very commercial, political and incomprehensive reasons.
The Tour used to favour French teams in the past, but this time, their decision went too far. As directors of Saeco or Telekom said, there is a big gap between the international sporting image of the Tour and its current provincialism. We know that sponsors or commercial/political aspects are important to maintain the race and there should be a lot of pressures from organisations or lobbyists. Even still, there is one thing that worries me. That is the absence of the fans in the Société's minds. Mr. Leblanc never mentioned about fans who are looking forward to seeing Pantani or Cipo during the Tour. Even if they are not in 100 per cent shape, it will be enough for fans if Pantani competes with Lance or Jan in the mountains or Cipo interferes with Zabel. There exists a difference of temperatures between fans and the Société. I recommend Mr. Leblanc to come over to Ohi futo in Tokyo where Cipo fan cyclists are planning to organise a red train, all wearing Cipo's Caesar's jersey. The jersey that Cipo wore only once during the Tour in the past.
It seems that the Société has forgotten that even if sponsors or lobbyists are important, they will lose interest in the Tour if fans do not follow. It is not only those sponsors or commercial organisations that compose the Tour. There are riders who try to participate in the world's biggest cycling race by hard work and also fans from all over the world. By maintaining this triangle relationship, the Tour shall be the real wonderful race. The recent Société's decision only emphasised the commercial side and neglected other two factors. The triangle was completely off balance. The results were a disappointment for riders who wanted to be chosen by a fair selection. And the most worrying thing is that world wide cycling fans were neglected by the Société. My only wish for Mr. Leblanc is that he will not be like some IOC members who are obsessed by money, money, money for the Olympic place selection.
I am not a fan of either Pantani nor Cipollini. I am satisfied that my favourite FESTINA and other teams had been chosen already. However, isn't it spectacular if Pantani competes with Lance or Jan in mountains? Or, don't you miss Cipo for beating Zabel or Dekker at 50m to go?
Marco Pantani needs to understand one simple idea. No one, NO ONE, is bigger than the race. Merckx came and went, as did Indurain, Hinault, and all the past heroes of the Tour. This is the Tour de France. If they want it to be the Tour of the French, so be it. It's their race, let them run it how they wish. Mr. Pantani, please keep your comments to yourself, we've seen your name in the media enough as it is.
Michael S. Marine
While no one can argue that Mr. LeBlanc doesn't have noble intentions regarding French cycling, I think in the end that he may be doing them a disservice. He is telling French sponsors that they can achieve Division I exposure on a Division II budget. For some perspective, he should look back a few years to when the Chazal/Petit Casino team routinely benefited from a charitable selection. Then, to their shock, in 1996 they didn't earn a place. The sponsor learned that if they didn't field a truly competitive team, that they couldn't expect a place in the Tour. They increased their budget, obtained the services of Olympic Champion Pascal Richard and others, and thus was born the Casino powerhouse of a few years ago. If Big Mat and FdJ are handed liberal Tour berths, they have no incentive to achieve (or regain) Division I status.
Let's face facts folks: cycling has always been a sport driven by sponsorship and business exposure. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that the inclusion of the extra French teams was done to shore up the sponsorship revenue stream not just for those teams, but also for La Société du Tour, which is looking at a pretty severe shortage in revenue (anybody want to sponsor the Yellow Jersey next year? I'm pretty sure that Credit Lionnais is leaving some space on the jersey available, and Coca Cola probably isn't a likely candidate to pick it up). We could argue a long time about this, but France is France after all, and Leblanc needs a French company to pick up sponsorship of that jersey.
In such a situation, it stands to reason especially given the intense behind the scenes lobbying done by the Lotto and CSC teams that had LeMond exerted himself a little more, Mercury would have stood a much better chance of displacing one of those d2 teams. As for the merits of Mercury's selection on cycling performance/potential there is meat to that argument, but Paris Nice was in March. Who really gets excited about Pavel Tonkov? Why has Chann McRae been completely silent this year?
As for the actual selections they too are wonderful: look at the controversy they've generated. As for dropping Cipo and Pantani: both riders are past their prime and have somewhat suspect teams (both in terms of performance and possible substance abuse). And this brings up another issue: why not do something in addition to the team time trial to make the first week of the race tactically significant?
I have lived in Italy for years and might not be objective. But I have followed cycling closely since Pantani did some serious damage to Indurain at the Mortirolo in Giro d`Italia 1994. Since then Pantani has been the jewel of Italian cycling and the one and only rider who can really touch the feelings of the 'tifosi' around the world with his fearless attacks and his ability to drop everyone in the mountains when he is in shape. Last year, he was clearly not in shape, but nevertheless he won two mountain stages and set the Tour a light with his fights with Armstrong. This year he would be much better trained, and with all those mountains, I believe he could be the only one capable of beating Armstrong. This will not be, and I will find something else to do this summer than watching the Tour on TV.
Pantani? Good riddance. This guy has had so much drug controversy around him. The sport can do well to move away from those types.
Cipollini? How many Tours has he actually finished, eh? As to the selection of the French Division 2 level teams, Big Mat, et al, it's the Tour Committee's party and they get to call the tune, even if it is a mistake.
As the Société du Tour de France knows in the case of French sponsors, that it is imperative to ride the Tour, Mr Leblanc might improve this sometimes farcical selection by increasing the number of teams in the Tour to 25, whilst reducing the number of riders per team to eight, which would bring 200 riders to the start line the same as the UCI Road World Cup Races. Although this may be a problem logistically, more sponsors will be drawn to the fact that they may be able to race the biggest annual sporting event in the world, keeping jobs for cyclists, French or otherwise.
The last month's letters