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Letters to Cyclingnews — May 9, 2001, part 2

Here's your chance to get more involved with Cyclingnews. Comments and criticism on current stories, races, coverage and anything cycling related are welcomed, even pictures if you wish. Letters should be brief (less than 300 words), with the sender clearly identified. They may be edited for space and clarity. We will normally include your name and place of residence, but not your email address unless you specify in the message.

Please email your correspondence to letters@cyclingnews.com.

Recent letters — Tour selection special, part 2

Continuing our presentation of Cyclingnews readers' opinions on the Tour wildcards.

Part One

John Stevenson
Letters editor

Equal tours and smaller teams
Trivialisation
An insight into the Le Tour selection process
Other tours do the same
Opportunity for new heroes
Greatest Race On Earth?
A vacancy
Combine the Div. II French teams
Youth?
Mercury's exclusion
Tour of the French?
Giro is better
National Teams?
Not the best race
Mercury's, Coast's non-selection are Correct
Tofu

Equal tours and smaller teams

Many of those who have written to Cyclingnews seem to assume that the Tour should be the best race of the year. It seems clear to me that those in control of professional cycling (the Tour selectors, the UCI) don't want the Tour to be the biggest, best race. They want the three big tours to be equal. Why else give them all the same number of UCI points? Why else let lower-ranked French teams into the Tour (and Italian teams into the Giro, and Spanish teams into the Vuelta)? I think we should all take a moment to think about whether we'd rather have one huge event and two sideshows, or three equal great races, each with a slightly different flavour. Look at the problems caused now by the perception that the Tour is IT and the other races don't really matter.

If I were running the Tour I'd cut the teams to eight riders each and then add two more teams. The peloton would be a bit smaller, more great riders would be included to help stir things up, and with fewer guys a team like U.S. Postal would have more trouble controlling the race. Each of which would make the race more interesting.

Daniel Hellerman
Montreal
Thursday, May 3

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Trivialisation

The provincial thinking of LeBlanc et al has trivialized the Tour de France.

Steve Moninger
USA
Thursday, May 3

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An insight into the Le Tour selection process

As I read the scathing letters attacking my good buddy Jean Marie, I was shocked at the near sightedness and disappointed at the jaded group of infantile scribes. Children it's time to put away your crayons and listen up! I'm only going to tell you Jean Marie's vision once - only once. You see Le Tour is not about epic battles on a barren mountainside with thousands of screaming fans urging on the combatants.

Nope, it's about Feed Zones.

I'm sure most of you don't know this but when it comes to feed zones teams like Big Mat and La Francaise des Jeux are simply unequalled in the peloton. So in my eyes their selections were an obvious choice.

But I can hear you now -- that's not what Le Tour is about. It's about a struggle for ultimate victory. WRONG!

You should be like me, brimming with utter glee and anticipation for the start of this year's race. The exciting moments are making my mouth water. I can see it now, THE WORLD FAMOUS Philippe Bordenaye dying like a roasted pig at the one-kilometer flag. Or maybe we'll witness a 500km suicidal breakaway by Jacky Durand (my fingers are crossed). Who'll cheer with me at the fantastic French flash Sebastien Hatton's epic 5k quest for victory when the rest of the peloton is on the side of the road taking piss. Are you with me! Stand up and cheer!

I've experience the Tour first hand and these are the types of memories I take away. Not the epic duels between "Big Tex" and "The Pirate" C'mon Super Mario only won 4 stages in a row in 1999. It's not like he won 5.

True, true a Frenchman has not won a Tour in over 15 years. But hey neither has anyone from Ethiopia. And the chance of it happening this year is slim to none. (Well, I think I'm giving them more of a chance than they deserve, but I'm in a giving mood I guess -- hey just like Jean Marie) But when "the Badger" won the Tour in 1985 it was on a purely French team with of course a few minor exceptions - Greg LeMond, Steve Bauer, and Nikki Ruttimen. But the other guys were French and those three guys weren't THAT important to Hinault's victory. (But I digress from my chastising of you ignorant fools!)

Obviously you've never witnessed the awe inspiring, sheer excitement of the Grupetto. Granted, rides from all nations and teams "get on the bus" but Jean Marie thought it needed more of a French flair. Remember folks this is their national tour.

Stop your whining and realize there is a master plan. A plan so keen it will only take a few decades to bring French cycling back to those dizzying heights of world domination!

Joe Coldebella
NYC USA
Friday, May 4

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Other tours do the same

It's funny to me that they would select so many Division II teams just because they are French. However, the Coors Classic and the Tour Dupont did the same thing here in America, the Italians have ALWAYS done that, and so does everyone else in the world. However, the Tour de France is the Big Show! It's not the event you choose to give a break to the locals so they get experience against the big boys. In that, it's an exception to the normally proper provincialism shown by the organizers of lesser events.

Frankly, French cycling is in the doldrums now, so I can understand it to some extent from a French perspective. I mean how long has it been since they had a French winner? 1985? I mean, LeMond is ALMOST French, so that's OK, since he was properly tortured- ahem, developed- by the French to prepare him for his victories. But since then, nothing. And then Lance comes into THEIR house and criticizes THEIR journalists with his confident Texas attitude, which is hauntingly similar to the French attitude.

It's also a bit anachronistic and typically 'French' (if you will pardon the expression), to shut out the increasing globalisation of the sport, particularly in the U.S. I wonder what Hein Verbruggen has to say about this step back in the "mondialization" of cycling.

For me, it also brings up the doping issue, since I see the lesser teams being 'encouraged' to do well at the expense of the riders for publicity reasons. It seems disingenuous of the Tour organizers to push both agendas.

There is also the issue of a rising combined power of Europe as a whole influencing the politics of France and the other EU countries, where power is more and more being taken from the individual countries and given the EU. This may be a sign of backlash against that and the corporate powers that now run cycling.

Regis Chapman
California, USA
Thursday, May 3

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Opportunity for new heroes

No Super Mario, no Il Pirate... A sad decision for the fans of cycling. Let's all send a protest card to Leblanc! If that doesn't help, there's one solution: the other teams have to make it a very spectacular race this year. Only then the Tour will create new heroes. A good opportunity for riders like Botero, Boogerd, Etxebarria and his Basque friends, VDB, and others. Go for it!

Frans Hopman,
Texel (the Netherlands)
Thursday, May 3

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Greatest Race On Earth?

I have heard it said too many times by too many cyclist and journalist. Sometimes I couldn't help but wonder if they confused "greatest" with "most hyped up". Maybe it was the greatest race, not any more. The TDF totally forgot what made it such a good race, a race between the majority of the best teams in the WORLD. Its their race, water down the talent if they want, what the hell, next year make it 15 French teams, why stop there, the French want to see French winners, make it 22 French teams, or a even better idea, handicap the French racers and start them out 10 minutes early.........but don't expect the world to care about your race like it has in previous years. I think it is our duty as cycling fans, to not give the TDF the stature and respect we have in the past.

Jad Sutton
Winfield, KS USA
Thursday, May 3

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A vacancy

Jean Marie Leblanc, the Florida State Election Board wants you.

Dave Erickson
Madison, WI USA
Thursday, May 3

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Combine the Div. II French teams

Maybe its time to go back to combining some of the "bubble" teams, especially the horde of Div. II French teams. If it is for France's cycling future then maybe a combined team of the best riders from Big Mat, and FDJ would be able to represent a single team and combine with the common goal of French cycling.

If Mercatone Uno were to combine with Alessio maybe this might signify a strong fulfilment for getting 2 great Italian teams in.

There is no doubt that the "red train" deserves to be in on its own accord. But maybe room could have been made for them and Mercury as their own complete teams if some of the "lesser" teams were combined.

I think going to 21 teams shows great flexibility, and could even have justified going to 22 teams since the quality of Pro teams is so high. The weeding out of riders during this years Tour would surely trim down the numbers quite some time before Paris.

With the flexibility of adding more teams, and combining the lesser teams all might have moved forward for a very interesting "Tour de France".
Is combining teams optimal for team managers? Probably not, but I have a feeling its better than missing the whole show.

John W. Senkier

Santa Cruz, CA USA
Thursday, May 3

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Youth?

Leblanc: "The Tour made up its mind to show faith in the younger riders. We have two teams (Big Mat and Francaise des Jeux) who have made the same decision.... It's also a sign of a break with the previous era of cycling."

This statement is crap. LeBlanc is trying to justify his exclusion of Mercury/Saeco/Mercatone by saying that he is giving the youth a chance. Great, well at the same time let's give the old man of French cycling a chance too. Nothing against Jalabert, he has been a great champion, but he's getting up there in the years and he's been laid up with a hurt back all spring. It is obvious that LeBlanc is grasping for explanations, but he's being hypocritical in the process.

I can't wait until Lance and Jan show starts, but I think three excluded teams would have all produced exiting stage wins. At least now Big Mat and FdJ will give me something to cheer against.

Brett Thompsen
Arizona
Thursday, May 3

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Mercury's exclusion

"If they had taken account of all the parameters our participation would have been assured today." --Greg LeMond, in reaction to the exclusion of Mercury-Viatel

This comment certainly sums up LeMond's mind-set and that of American bicycle fans in general.

The letter-whiners cry out for justice, for "fairness" in the face of LeBlanc's selection decisions. Will Americans never learn? There is something besides fair-play that rules this world and nurtures the soul: that thing is Truth. LeBlanc is under no obligation to think like an American: the Tour is not and never has been organized and run like some charity race dreamed up at a PTA luncheon. Le Tour is a national institution and should be respected accordingly: that would be fair of the letter-whiners.

Just as LeMond was little-boy hurt by his team leader Bernard Hinault's aggressive riding in the 1986 Tour, he is "astonished and disappointed" at LeBlanc's decision. Greg, you have no excuse to be amazed after what you went through fifteen years ago in the Pyrenees, when Hinault attacked and put three minutes into you because he could, wanted to, and did.

There are such things still as Truth and Class. Let Mercury-Viatel show LeBlanc what he's missing, if that makes everyone feel any better. Better still, try and understand the sport you claim to love. Lay aside the American flag and take up a book. Push yourself to comprehend something Greg LeMond never has and perhaps never shall learn: humility and thankfulness in the face of history.

Patrick P. Hartigan
Portland, Oregon USA
Thursday, May 3

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Tour of the French?

Fine, let's work with that. It's high time the Tour de France was torn off its pedestal!

The French national tour is now a showcase for Grade B French talent, rather than the world's greatest bike race. In a twisted way, it's a good thing for cycling that some of the best teams in the world were left out and replaced by cheesy regional Division II teams.

Now the Classics will move back up a notch in public perception, along with the fine national tours of Italy and Spain. More top teams and riders will aim for those races as well as the World Championships. A balanced sport may be the result, and I'm all for it.

Competitive cycling has been hostage to the whims of the Tour de France promoters for long enough. I say let's move on. It's a great race, but not the only race. Bumping the "Tour" from the primary goal of the season for all teams down to a more manageable level of being just a normal major goal would be a good thing.

The current shift in perception that the Tour de France has lapsed into a politically motivated French promotional vehicle may help to mediate the excessive value placed on this event.

Look what happens when the teams are forced to put all their eggs in one basket. Some teams will probably die at the end of this season as a direct result of the decisions made by Leblanc and his cronies. The Tour de France has become the Microsoft of cycling.

Fortunately, we have other choices.

Steve Smull
USA
Thursday, May 3

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Giro is better

Casagrande, Simoni and, a surprising Garzelli, in a thrilling penultimate day finish in 2000. Salvodelli, Gotti and, a fantastic breakthrough race for Simoni, to provide another second to last day nail-biter in 1999. 1998, Tonkov vs. Pantani on, you guessed it, the next-to-last day of the race. I'm starting to beat a dead horse here, but, 1997, Tonkov vs. Gotti. You get the idea. For the past few years the Tour of Italy has provided a much more exciting spectacle than its July counterpart. Mr. Leblanc, next year feel free to invite 20 French teams. True cycling fans, worldwide, will in greater numbers grow to appreciate the Giro for being the better product. Viva Le Tour (of Italy)!

Andy Stokes
USA
Thursday, May 3

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National teams?

In reality I find this whole "mess" to be quite funny really. If the Tour de France really wants to be the best race in the whole season then maybe the selection should be based on the best teams from around the world. But instead of getting caught up in the whole political threats and whatnot, maybe the organizers should return to the amateur teams. Or better yet, call the Tour de France (in 2001) what it is....the best excuse for the French to show of their cyclists!!!

So if the organizers would like a truly "best in the world" type of race, maybe they should have ONLY national teams competing. That way the monetary benefits of fielding a team of nine riders would benefit a national cycling federation and not a company that writes off the cycling team as an advertising/promotional expense.

Of course, in a capitalist society that would never work. Since the cyclists are pros and MUST (by definition) be paid. The companies involved MUST make money. And they must get as much exposure as their money will buy. That is a reality in 2001. However, in the organizer's desire to make a more interesting race, they have excluded some great riders for the sake of presenting lesser recognizable teams. In my opinion, that is a waste of time and resources. Why put so much into the Tour if you only expect to get little in return?

Maybe the UCI could come up with a better plan, but I doubt it. Can anyone say EPO test buy the start of the 2000 Tour?!?! I would hope that if the UCI becomes part of the process (and I hope they will since the governing body of cycling should be in charge of the "greatest Race in the World") since it is their product that is on display. In the event that the UCI does take over the Tour selection then I would hope that they draw up a list of requirements for selection and (here's the catch) stick to them.

Maybe with some changes the 2002 Tour will be the best ever, but I honestly doubt it.

James Darlow
USA
Thursday, May 3

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Not the best race

I think the decision to leave Pantani, Cipollini and Mercury=Viatel out are serious mistakes. I had doubts about the Tour's legitimacy as the best race in the world, know I know without a doubt it is not the best race, but the most political. LeBlanc has just shot himself in the foot and ruined the race for fans, sponsors and competitors alike. It's sad to think that the French are living up to their reputations as stuck-up, conceited nationalists, but I guess it's things like this that give them the reputation in the first place. It's obvious the Tour does not believe in providing the best bicycle race in the world with the best bicycle racers, but instead believes in "keeping it French" at the expense of the sport, its stars and the spectators.

Ian Settlemire
USA
Thursday, May 3

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Mercury's, Coast's non-selection are correct

The selections were not a surprise. The TdF selections committee does not have to base itself on any standards except its own, and will follow the force of will of its race director. Remember how Vicenzo Torriani ruled the Giro with an iron fist? It is a French race, period, full stop. That is a fact, and an agenda in the same definition. Other teams are invited to participate based on what the TdF organizers believe those teams can contribute to the quality of the race. It is not the World Championship and does not have to objectively include anyone at the start gate. I would like to see Mercury and Coast in the Tour over Big Mat and FdJ any day, but that's how it stands.

Anyhow, it just wasn't in the stars for these two teams. It was not Wordin's place, or anyone's for that matter, to say afterwards that the non-selection wasn't "in the best interest of the sport." Fact is, Viatel is a sponsor going globally bankrupt with or without Tour exposure (they're like PSINet, but slightly less infamous), and Mercury has no real business base in France. Coast is not 'Z' of the late '80s-early '90s. It should surprise no one that the final wild cards were given to French teams in a French race, or that the lone French star (Jalabert) and the team that proved it was passed over the year before (Euskaltel) also got invites. As for Pantani, Cipo, Dufaux, and perhaps even in Zulle's Escartin's camp, they will not be the first nor the last stars to miss the "big dance." Perhaps these events will serve to raise the competitive status and recognition of the Giro, and more appropriately, the Vuelta, as "big dances" that need not compare themselves to the TdF except as Grand Tours in their own respective right. Perhaps the only surprise would be if a rider pulls a 'Pensec' (recall this French maillot jaune ancienne's swap from Seur to Amaya in '93 when Seur got the snub), and switch teams in time to make it to the prologue.

Joe Harris
Los Angeles, CA USA
Friday May 4

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Tofu

Tofu de France - bland mush.

Watch the Vuelta instead.

Norm Simmonds
Burbank
Thursday, May 3

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The last month's letters

  • May 3 — Tour wildcard reactions
  • May 1 – Tour de France: CSC & Pantani wildcards, Domo's P — R victory, Hincapie, Postal's ambitions, Australian TV, ONCE on Klein?
  • April 26 – Domo's P — R victory, Hincapie, CSC & Pantani in the Tour?, Camenzind, Who suffers most?, Fixies across Asia
  • April 24 – Domo's P — R victory, Hincapie, Would — be Flahutes, Who suffers most?, Tyre sizes, ONCE TT bikes
  • April 19 – Hincapie: Stay or go?, Paris — Roubaix, Who suffers most?, Breakages, Tyre sizes
  • April 17 – Hincapie, Breakages, Women, Who suffers most?, Tour of Sydney, Custom Shoes
  • April 12 – Breaking bikes, Grass roots, Women
  • April 10 – Breaking bikes,What is Sport?,Women
  • April 5 – Sunderland, F&M, What is Sport?, Women, Peugeot jersey
  • April 3 – Milan — San Remo, What is Sport?, Women, Race Services vs Prize Money
  • Letters Index - The complete index to every letters page on cyclingnews.com