Letters to Cyclingnews May 15, 2001
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Recent letters More Tour wildcards
Here's what we hope will be the final enormo-batch of letters about the Tour wildcards. Not that it hasn't been fascinating and entertaining to read your opinions, but it does seem that just about everything that can be said on the suibject has now been said.
But there's a world beyond the Tour, as our first few letters this month attest.
Mercury not active in France
During the last few months I've been watching the results of Genevieve Jeanson with growing admiration, and wondering where women's cycling will be when she has finished with it. First, the 19 year old Canadian won the Redlands Classic in March by a whopping nine minutes, but that was nothing compared to the recent Tour of the Gila. There she single-handedly destroyed the powerful Saturn Women's Team. Their two best climbers finished second and third, but trailed Jeanson by a massive 15 minutes and 24 minutes after the five stage race. Even the world number one Anna Millward was forced to raise the white flag on the last stage.
The way Jeanson keeps attacking, even when she holds a commanding lead going into the last stage, and her seemingly insatiable desire to put as much time as possible between her and her rivals, brings obvious comparisons with that greatest of all riders: The Cannibal, Eddy Merckx. Only time will tell!
At the Montreal World Cup in June, where Jeanson will be facing the world's best, it will be fascinating to see if the top women's teams have enough faith in their ability to tackle Jeanson as individual teams, or if they decide that the only way to beat her is to band together and work against her en masse. If it is the latter, Jeanson may not win the bike race, but she will most certainly have won the psychological war.
There seems little doubt that Jeanson, along with other outstanding young riders like Ceris Gilfillan and Nicole Cook from Britain, and Trixi Worrack from Germany, is taking women's road cycling into a new era, and to new levels of performance. What an exciting prospect!
Bravo Jon You wrote an eloquent summation of the rationale and feelings leading up to that first shave. I know, because I just did it this past Thursday. Except, I didn't have the benefit of support from the wife. Instead, I did it in secrecy and suffered the lamentations of a disgruntled wife when it was all said and done.
The one thing I can't figure out though, is how to avoid the pricklies when my thighs rub together. OUCH!
I have recently taken up cycling in Australia and would love to get my hands on an Irish cycling top can't find any here I'm a size XL hope that someone can help
My much loved Eddy Merckx Seven Eleven team frame in size 58 was recently stolen while it was in transit on an international flight from London to Sydney. Anybody wishing to sell their 58 frame in 7-11 team colours please contact me via email. Many thanks
With all the letters coming in about fixies I thought you would like a look at the latest in fixie technology!
With the mononucleosis-like virus spreading throughout the Mapei team, I can't help but wonder what is going on after these races. With the investment they have in these riders, I would expect the team management to at least make an effort to have the riders cut down on smooching each other. Didn't Steels contract the virus just after Lefevere departed? Could it be that the real genius of Patrick Lefevere was his ability to keep the smoldering love fest that is Mapei under control?
First of all Mercury-Viatel was probably not selected because Van Petegem, Koerts and others are not riders for long stage races, except Tonkov, but he doesn't like much the Tour.
Of course the Tour will suffer from the absence of Pantani, but Pantani hasn't done anything good for two years, except one stage of the Giro and a week on the last Tour de France. Then the two French teams that have been chosen obtained good results in French races. To my mind they deserved selection more than a team that hasn't ridden any races in France. Many great teams are now afraid to come to French races because they're scared of French police. But French teams are not invited to some great races in Italy. Last year some people talked about a "cyclisme ą deux vitesse" (two-speed cycling). Now, it's just two distinct cyclings.
Like everyone else, I have agreements and disagreements with the teams selected for the Tour.
First, I have to applaud the Tour selectors for not admitting Saeco and Mercatone. It sends a strong message that the Tour (and the rest of organized cycling) should not admit teams with riders using banned substances and is working to make the sport more clean.
Yes, both teams have strong and colorful riders, but these team leaders need to be accountable for their actions and also their team-mates.
Like others, I was quite surprised at the other Division II teams added. I too would like to have seen Mercury ride the Tour. They would have provided lots of color and excitement.
But as it is, it is a French event and they decided to include more French teams. This is not all bad.
Hopefully, it will give these teams more incentive to do better in the coming months and years. They have heard the criticism and will hopefully respond by putting French cycling back on the map where it belongs.
They should realize that if they don't perform, others will force changes on the Tour and they won't get this opportunity in the future.
As it stands, the Tour will still be the biggest and best cycling (and sporting) event in the world. It will be full of drama and the best riders will still go toe to toe. And like always, there will be many surprises that make it the grand spectacle that it is.
More than anyone, I am certain that M. Leblanc is distraught at the quality of French riders. So his solution: If we can't go with quality, go with quantity. Considering that the top French riders are UCI ranked at 23, 24, and 55 (Moreau, Halgand and Brochard), this leaves some slim pickings to pin their hopes on. Simply stated, I think it has to severely irritate him to have to go that far down into Division II just to pack some national riders into the classement. Herein lies the crux of the dilemma: The French think of the Tour as their own; the rest of the world feels otherwise.
Remember in 1995, when Deutsche Telekom were selected to ride the Tour as a mixed team with ZG-Mobili? I would not have much of a problem if FdJ and Big Mat were combined to form a single wildcard team. This is in essence the definition of what a wildcard is. You never know when it will pop up and you don't know who it is going be dealt to. What is distressing is that other players with a full house on the table were passed up to make room. Even the UCI is shaking its collective head in wonder and if Mr Verbruggen holds true in wanting change, below is a possible method in which the UCI can directly consign their best riders to the race without interfering with Mr Leblanc's blind fits of nationalism.
Leave one team slot open for a unified group of riders whose teams were not strong enough to be chosen for the Tour. Riders will be given starting priority based on order of UCI ranking. If this were the case, the following group of riders would be in the Tour: Rebellin (UCI 4, Liquigas); Tonkov (UCI 19, Mercury); Escartin (UCI 25, Coast); Zulle (UCI 26, Coast); Honchar (UCI 29, Liquigas); Van Petegem (UCI 31, Mercury); Salvoldelli (UCI 32, Saeco); Stangelj (UCI 44, Liquigas); Dufaux (UCI 49, Saeco). Alternate and reserve riders are Herve (UCI 55, Alexia); Virenque (UCI 56, Homeless); Van Bon (UCI 63, Mercury); Conte (UCI 69, Saeco); Guidi (UCI 72, Mercury); and Cipollini (UCI 73, Saeco). An amazing assembly of stage racers. Egos and support logistics aside, I would love to see this group ride (aside from the team time trial). This system would certainly change not only tour performance, but the post season trading ritual. Talented riders will be able to sign on to smaller teams and not have to stay within the confines of a team that is guaranteed a tour start.
I have to say that politics wins yet again and not cycling . The Tour de France is now the Tour de farce. Where will all the excitement come from without the showmen like Cipollini and Pantani, they are the reason people all over the world watch Le Tour, not for mediocre French Division II teams who won't even finish, never mind liven things up in the mountains or the sprints .
Where is Team Coast? Remember Zulle and Escartin who always finish well up in the .C and on the mountain stages? As for Jalabert, he is only making up the numbers .
Mercury have a team who on true merit should have been selected; a team that would have added to the world wide appeal of the Tour. Who is going to do that now? Armstrong or Ulrich that is about it. Which one will win? Who really cares as there is no one else of any class or unpredictability to challenge them. An unfit Pantani rode them all off his wheel last year and excited all cycling fans. Who is going to do the unpredictable thing now?
M Leblanc should be taken to task by the UCI and made to change his decision so that the best in the world ride the best race in the world. After all, it is not just a French race, it appeals to a worldwide audience and some of the major sponsors are American institutions .
If the Tour were the World Cup hockey championships, these selections would be like putting in the French team even after they lost the pre-qualifiers. The NHLPA and the NHL referee the teams that will play, wherever they play in the world. If in France, the French would ref, and then all the hockey guys would get hurt.
The TdF is the super bowl of cycling it is always and will always be. The UCI saying they will not intervene makes them the weakest governing body of a sport in the history of sport.
The BEST Solution is, to put a French national team in the TdF and then the Italians can do the same for the Giro, and the Spanish for the Vuelta, except those are already mainly Italian and Spanish races. The TdF is the one and only Super bowl. The French are just going to have to let the UCI have all power in selection. I know the Giro will be fun to watch and the Vuelta will be great too with Lance riding for Heras
Finally I predict a Russian will win this year's TdF
Interesting to read that in your piece about the upcoming Giro that 15 of the 22 teams (or something like that) will be Italian. No doubt this is to rub the noses of the TdF organisation in the proverbial! Imagine if France had that number of pro teams, and were still just as mediocre at gaining results. What would the TdF board do then?
Can you imagine the scene on the Champs with a full US team, a full German, a full Spanish, five complete Italian teams; and 13-odd stranglers from 13-odd French teams - probably not French riders! - thundering around. How embarrassing that would be for the organizers?
Why are there so many Italian teams to choose from in the first place? One simple reason: there are so many good Italian riders. When Leblanc and co. realise that France isn't that good at cycling at the moment - they WILL get better, but when is anyone's guess - then they'll change their minds without undue external pressure. It's a pity this will take the French time and pain to realise this.
Throwing in babies at the deep-end doesn't make 'em champion swimmers.
Erik van Bommel
I think it's pretty obvious why the heroes of the past have been overlooked in favour of the French teams for this year's tour.
Pantani has shown little-to-no form for the past 12 months since the last TdF, and his ongoing legal battles over his alleged drug taking are clearly not what Jean Marie Leblanc wants on the front of L'Equipe come July. Looking at the course for this year's tour, writers like those on Cyclingnews are building it up to be a showdown on a quite mountainous route between Lance and Jan. Had Pantani been selected it might have made for a more interesting three-way battle, but on the other hand, would the Tour fall foul of Pantani's past and slump back into the dire media attention it was getting during July 1998? To have a Tour winner in 2001 that goes into the courtroom for drug taking? The press would have a field day with it. Therefore Leblanc's choice seems logical and protective of the sport we all love.
Cipollini has also remained somewhat in the shadows this year. His build-up to the Giro continues, and I think we should respect this man's achievements in recent Tours. However I think it is fair to say that the Saeco team's main objective this year is to have a good Tour of Italy rather than a Tour of France. They will be missed, but it's interesting to note that the colour and class Cipollini brings to the race can also be seen in another hero of the 90's,Jacky Durand. FdJ weren't on my immediate list of teams to make it to the start line in July but I'm certainly looking forward to Durand's inclusion as he has the same liveliness and charisma for the sport in front of the camera's. (Although he isn't going to win four sprint finishes).
I was surprised that Mercury didn't get a wildcard placement, as the American team have been doing well all spring in European races, showing they can cut it with the best. Again though, Tonkov is better suited to the Giro than the Tour as was shown when Mapei were unable to make much impression on the last couple of editions of the TdF. If the team can survive without the Tour this year, I think it would be better for Wordin and LeMond to quit complaining and look to be in the top 16 teams for next year, so they don't need to bother with the wildcards.
An exclusion that hasn't been complained about too much is that of Team Coast, a relatively new team, with some old hands to steer them towards wildcard selections. I'm going to miss Escartin in the mountains, and to a certain extent Zulle, but are these two '90s heroes going to recreate the form that took them to stage victories in previous Tours? Good (but harsh) call from Leblanc to say no to Coast. They haven't been too visible in the peloton this year yet.
Coast and Mercury are to some extent the second biggest cycling teams in their respective countries... and to say yes to one more German or American team, would probably get the other complaining bitterly over their rivals getting the nod over them!
The Tour might be entering a new era, if it hasn't already. It will be interesting to see what Big Mat, FdJ, Jean Delatour, Bonjour and Ag2r can bring to the Tour. Reading reports on your website I am interested in the development of Halgand and look forward to seeing who will replace Pantani and co. at the front of the peloton as the race reaches the mountains.
As an ardent fan of Boogerd, and having seen him fail to live up to the expectation of the last two Tours since his fifth place in 1998 I'm putting my hopes of a podium finish for the Dutchman, because - as in 1998 - some of the big names of cycling are missing from the 2001 race.
My money for the overall is on Ullrich, although I don't know how he would be able to overcome Armstrong's power in the mountains and consistent time trailing. However I'm sure that the German will have a plan, now that he is organising his preparation that little better.
Good luck to all those who have a chance to prove something in le Tour '01. Maybe we can see French cycling getting back on track in this race.
Christopher James Clarke
The organizers of the Vuelta have been presented with a tremendous opportunity! The Giro is set, the Tour is, well, a mess, let the Vuelta be "the show". The organizers of the Vuelta have the opportunity to make this year's race the most memorable in history. Invite all the best riders and teams, and do it soon so the teams can adjust their schedules to peak at the right time. The very process used to pick the wildcards for the Tour is flawed, even if they had adhered to the sporting elements. Today's best cyclist's time their peak for the Tour. For Pantani to have good results in the early season would almost ensure a less-than-peak effort for the Tour. Most of the best riders are just starting to come into form. Has Jan Ullrich shown early season dominance? Has Lance or Casagrande? All of them are just starting to come around.
No Cipo in the Tour? He has earned a lifetime pass, he should get in until he can't pedal anymore. We all know he will pull out in the mountains, but do we really care? I would love to see him try and finish, but I also love to watch the early stages and the sprint finishes. Will it be Cipo or Steels or Zabel or Kirsipuu or O'Grady or any of 20 other great sprinters? Super Mario won four stages in a row in 1999, to exclude him is just wrong.
The overall, no Pantani or Casagrande, Lance wants to go against all the best in one place at one time. Every year there is conjecture over his dominance, This is the Vuelta's chance to step into the limelight, bring all the best to one place for the sport. Not for the Vuelta or the Tour, but for the cyclists.
No, Coast, no Mercury, no Saeco, no Mercatone-Uno, will we even watch ? Probably, but we are cycling fans after all. But, bring all the best riders and teams to the Vuelta and the whole world will definitely watch. All Division I teams should get in, if the numbers get too large reduce the size of the teams. After all why do teams want to be Division I?
Hey, all you guys are being way too hard on Monsieur Leblanc. He's just trying to do his best to make Le Tour a French suck-fest. I applaud his courage (stupidity). In fact, next year I would like to see him open the race to all French citizens who own a bicycle. I can just see it now, Lance being attacked from all sides by 70 year old French women on single speed, baguette-toting bikes. Now that's exciting!
Who cares if Ag2R, Bonjour, Jean Delatour, FdJ, and Big Mat are all Division II teams? The fact of the matter is, they are French and as such deserve every bit of punishment they're gonna get. Forget about watching "la tete de la course", I think it's gonna be way cooler watching these French teams almost getting run over by the broom wagon on a daily basis.
In closing, I would just like to offer my congratulations to Monsieur Leblanc. His insightful, deck-stacking tactics just might get the French a stage win this year (I doubt it). I hear next year he's proposing that all non-French riders have their tire pressure set at 30psi.
While I am not expert enough in the sport of professional cycling to give a definitive answer on whether or not the wild card selections were right or wrong, I can give some insight into one of the French teams selected and why it is a good thing for the Tour de France.
I lived and worked in France for three years in the late 1990's. During that time, my employer, a large American-based global corporation, was a sponsor for the Big Mat-Auber 93 team. I was proud to be part of that decision-making process because of what the team represented. Big Mat was perhaps the first, and still may be the only professional cycling team in Europe that started as an amateur team. They continue to operate a very strong amateur program today. The team has quite a large organization to coach and manage teams at the youth (starting as young as 8 years old), junior and senior level amateur teams. I wish the US had a program such as this.
As for the professional squad, yes they are an undistinguished Division II team. But the French study cycling the way that many of us Americans study the box scores of baseball games. They know who the up-and-comers are as well as the journeymen and champions. It is important to the French to see their countrymen compete in their national tour - just as it is a treat for the French to see the international stars. The French are very passionate about cycling.
Big Mat's inclusion in this year's tour may be reward for what the team has given to French cycling. In the 1998 Tour, Big Mat was the third team tested for drugs, I believe after Festina and TVM. No Big Mat rider was found with any trace of drugs or masking agents in their blood. This is from Big Mat's heritage as an amateur team. It was not widely made public, but the Tour officials did take significant note of that fact. While there is no threat among the team to win GC or any other category this year, Big Mat does play on their role as, quoting an earlier letter, a 'feed zone' team. In actuality, what they do is maximize their time on French TV, which covers all 5-6 hours of each stage. As an animator during the stage, they gain important opportunities to be interviewed on French TV, in uniform, with the sponsors names on the jersey. This TV exposure helps justify and pay for the money that comes in from sponsors. It may not seem important to the world community, but as the French national tour, this stuff is really important.
I would love to see more American teams in the Tour. I have been involved in cycling for almost 30 years here in the US. I would also love to see Lance Armstrong beat Pantani, et al one more time. But I cannot let public opinion beat up on teams like Big Mat when they mean more to French cycling, and therefore to world cycling, than they have been given credit for so far.
Ralph W. Walker
I suppose a wholesale cleanup of pro cycling is good. However, does anyone else find it ironic that Bo Hamburger is sacked after a positive EPO test by team manager Bjarne Riis?
I wonder if CSC would have retained their entry in the Tour if Jaja wasn't riding for them after Hamburger's doping suspension? The Vini Caldirola/Honchar story (May 11, http://www.cyclingnews.com/results/2001/may01/may11newsa.shtml) was very informative, exposing the transparent nature of Mr Leblanc's ethics.
Here's something I just thought about. You know, everybody is furious with M. Leblanc because he selected the "wrong" teams for the Tour de France. Sure, Cipollini and Pantani and their teams are going to the Giro d'Italia, they've got that, but what have Mercury-Viatel and Team Coast and the rest of the non-Italian, non-selected teams got to look forward to this summer? Nothing. And it serves them just right.
If Mercury and Coast hadn't been staring themselves blind at the Tour de France, arrogantly stating that their top GC men were currently training for a race for which they were not yet invited, they could've probably gotten a spot in the Giro, too. Now they got nothing as far as Grand Tours are concerned, except the prospect of the Tour of Spain a looong time from now.
Only one man from one team can win the Tour. Yet so many top riders name the Tour de France as their number one objective of the season, and if they fall off and break something on the first stage, or their team just doesn't get invited, well, there goes their big season objective.
Imagine if not only Tonkov, Pantani, Zülle and Escartin, but also Ullrich and Armstrong, were for some reason or another prevented from going to the Tour. Let's take a look at what these six guys have achieved so far this season. Hmmm… one victory. Yes, Armstrong did finish second to Erik Dekker in Maastricht last month, but he didn't win, and I'm counting wins here. So, one victory, Alex Zulle's stage win in Paris-Nice way back in March.
Greg LeMond and his American sponsors might not have noticed, but there are other stage races besides the Tour. The Giro is one of them (and the riding there is usually more exciting than in the Tour). The Tour de Suisse and the Tour of Romandy and the Dauphiné are others. And there are several great Spanish stage races during the spring and summer. They're not as prestigious as the Tour de France, but maybe that has something to do with the fact that the Armstrongs and Ullrichs and the rest of the non-Italian Tour-specialists either don't take part in these races, or use them more or less as training rides.
Next year let's put the names of the 30 best teams in the world in a hat and draw out 20 of them to take part in the Tour. Telekom not in? Tough luck. US Postal not among them either? Well, that's just too bad, maybe Jan and Lance will have to look elsewhere to justify their huge salaries. I'm sick of everyone acting as though the Tour de France is the only race that matters. It's just a bike race like all the other bike races.
Anders P. Jensen
Has everyone forgotten the teams selected for participation earlier? Of the top ten teams according to the UCI rankings nine are to take part. Of the top 20 teams 16 are to take part. Certainly Mercury fans may be disappointed, but this does not make the Tour the disaster many of your correspondents are making out. No other stage race anywhere has as many of the top teams and riders taking part and the Tour de France is still and will always be the biggest and best cycle race in the world. The only constructive suggestion that has been made is to reduce the size of teams to eight riders each.
Since most of your writers are outside Europe can I say something from the continent, albeit a fringe.
The selections are strange - and I think Leblanc is a secret Armstrong fan. Lotto and Euskaltel self-selected. The two Italian teams left out are one-man teams - but what men! At least they would add spice and make Armstrong suffer. It's too early for Team Coast and Mercury to come in, and why do the Americans want to take over everything, anyway?
Just to remind everyone the Tour de France is the Tour of France and the average spectator on the road side wants to see someone local and not some foreign Johnny-come-lately.
So typically I'm sitting on the fence. May someone else win it, particularly if he's Belgian or French.
Jalabert most certainly is a great rider . However I believe that one man does not make a team. Team selections should be based on current season team results. Team selection is not a matter of how fast a team's one big star is. Selection should be a matter of overall team performance.
If Marco and Mario believe that their individual performances entitle them to a Grand Tour, then let them race it without their team-mates. Sorry guys, it just doesn't nor should it work that way. Also , second rate pro teams should not be allowed to take the places that should be reserved for the teams who worked hard to make good overall results this year. If I were one of the LeMond/Wordin clan, I would be looking forward to blowing away a lot of French riders in next years TdF.
I guess the idea of more than one American-based team ruling the roads of France in July was just too much. Oh well, Lance and USPS will be kicking all of you off their back wheels so fast that you won't know what hit you . Good Luck Frenchies ,you're gonna need it!
Art Garcia ,
If Leblanc and company want to use the Tour to showcase their pathetic Division II French teams, great, less competition for Lance. Our Lance and out other American boys will just stomp even harder in the Tour.
This demands the question: Why not the Tour of the US? We've got a heck of a lot more terrain to choose from for epic mountain-top battles, and weather conditions from sleet to thunderstorms to desert sun. Oh, and the talent... well, we've got two American Division I teams, and a Division II team (Saturn) that could easily ride as well as most Division I teams in the Tour. So let's invite a couple Euro teams over, and have ourselves our OWN national grand tour!
Like many other people, I am very disappointed by the choices M. Leblanc made in selecting teams for the Tour de France. Missing riders like Mario Cipollini, Leon van Bon, Fernando Escartin, Peter van Petegem and, most of all, Marco Pantani really degrades the Tour. I was looking forward to a great fight between Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani. Who will attack Lance Armstrong at the Alpe d'Huez this year? A member of the Big Mat team? I think M. Leblanc did a very foolish thing!
OK! Enough already about the Tour de France being "ruined" and "not the best race in the World". I am as upset as most serious bike race fans about the partisan selections for the Tour this year and the resultant exclusion of Mercury and Saeco. But I won't go over the edge and declare the Tour as being ruined.
The Tour won't have Pantani this year. Well, the Tour didn't have Pantani in 1996 or 1999 and both were great races, with plenty of attacking in the mountain stages. The Tour won't have Cipollini this year, well he wasn't there last year and there were plenty of exiting sprint finishes. Andy Stokes makes the assertion that the Giro over the last few years has been "more exiting" than the Tour. Sure, the Giro has produced great racing with closely matched participants and interesting battles. However, facts are that the Giro and the Vuelta both are what I call "asterisk events", because there is some fine print at the bottom of the results each day that says "Note: the best riders in the world are not in attendance".
Check your start data folks, only a handful (three to five usually) of the UCI top twenty race in the Giro or the Vuelta. The best of the best race the Tour. The winners of the Giro or the Vuelta are top 10ers at the Tour. That is just the way it is.
Close races are exciting, no doubt. But I can go see a close race between evenly matched opponents battling fiercely for the win between amateurs within two hours from my house. It's good bike racing but it ain't the best in the world. Leblanc's tinpot dictator decision has reduced the depth of the field for the Tour this year, without a doubt. But the best will still be battling with the best in France come July.
I think one can even make an argument that the lack of Cipollini and Pantani actually make for better action in the sprint stages and mountain stages respectively. Cipollini makes it much easier for Zabel to win the green jersey by racking up a HUGE pile of points in the first week, and then taking those points with him to the beach when he retires. This year, the O'Gradys, Steels and Pettachis of the peloton are going to gaining some of those points. A similar point can be made about Pantani(although he has yet to really do much in the KOM): his team (usually) likes to keep control of the mountain stages until the last climb when the "little magic man" blazes away from everyone and wins the stage. Pantani has gained this huge reputation for "aggressive attacks in mountain stages of the Tour" largely from two days: Galibier/Les duex Alps in 1998 (spectacular success) and Morzine in 2001 (equally spectacular failure). Other than that, it's been pretty much 'blow everyone away on the last climb'.
The Tour is run by a small group of people who have their own ideas and will do things that turn out to be mistakes from time to time. However, the race is bigger than they are, and it will continue to be what it has been for decades: the biggest, baddest, hardest, and fastest bike race in the world.
Why is everyone uptight about Marco Pantani not making the Tour! Neither he or the entire Mercatone-Uno squad deserved the invite. Poor performances in the 2000 tour and early season races have proved him to be in poor form.
As for Saeco, they deserved an invite. They have been winning stages and races much like the other left-out squad, Mercury.
Hopefully the 2002 race will be a better showing of world class talent rather then a home-team showcase.
Jean Marie says he is supporting French cycling and highlighting France. Unfortunately, he is making the rest of the world laugh at them instead.
The only good thing I can say is that from an Australian viewpoint, now Brad McGee will have a chance of winning the prologue, Paddy Jonker a chance in the hills, and Jay Sweet and 'de facto' Aussie Jez Hunt will be battling it out in the sprints!
Hey. I'm confused by all these cycling fans carping on about French Teams and American Teams being left out of the Tour De France. National Teams ? This isn't the world championships or the Olympics, people. It's a French race ridden by TRADE teams. Didn't hear too many protests about Jayco VIS getting a run in the Tour Down Under. I'll be watching my favourite American climber Heras taking on my favourite great Colombian Italian American rider, Rodriguez. Great to see French star sprinter Jay Sweet still in with a chance for a ride as well. Can't wait to see Russian, sorry, Moldavian or, hang on, no that's Belgian, hard-rider Tchmil and I've still got a soft spot for that Italian guy Cadel Evans too - hope Saeco give him a run in the Giro.
Although the organizers have turned the TDF into a two horse race rather than a three horse race, by excluding Mercatone-Uno, on reflection perhaps this 'diminished' Tour will help equalize the stature of the three Grand Tours this year. I will really miss Pantani's climbing exploits, however.
In fact, a review of the 29 teams vying for 22 slots in the Vuelta, promises - at least on paper - to make the Vuelta probably the most competitive and exciting of the three Tours this year.
I feel sorry for Mercury- Viatel, they blew it big time by betting the bank on being selected for the Tour only. They were out-played by Lotto. Lotto opted to cover their bases by seeking and then obtaining selection for the Giro first. If they were also selected for the Tour (which they now are) then that was a huge bonus. Lotto won on both 'bets' . Mercury should have done likewise and then today they would have 2 Grand Tours experience in 2001 (Giro and Vuelta). No doubt they would have gained extra UCI points from both these Tours which would have put them into a great position for TDF 2002. Instead their eggs are all in the Vuelta basket for this year. I hope they do well! This team needs a strategist for race selection, and not just for winning races. You can't win if you're not selected! But the best of luck to Mercury, I really feel badly for them.
I think many of the arguments are very valid with regards to Tour selection. It would be great to see all the tours on an equal footing , but from a commercial point of view they are not. Unlike many sports the pro peloton exists because companies are prepared to use their marketing budgets to back a team. If that company decides it's had enough then potentially the team folds. The companies want the most exposure for their money and it's three weeks in July that provide this. Banesto used to get $15 million worth of exposure in July alone. Their team's annual budget was $5 million. Not a bad return in my opinion. Also the days when a pro would ride all three major tours are pretty much dead and buried. If we can't get the best riders at the Tour what chance have the other two tours got?
Even in the UK teams were formed because we had a week long Pro Tour which had minimal TV coverage. Most of these small and usually under-funded teams got a ride at the expense of better continental teams. There is always going to be bias towards home teams. The problem with the Tour is that it is deemed to be the biggest and best race in the world so therefore all the best and most popular riders are expected to be there. All Leblanc is doing is exercising his right to use a little home bias as every other tour organiser does.
I assume now that Bo Hamburger has been found to test positive for EPO that M. Leblanc will withdraw CSC's invitation to participate in the TdF. If he is truly worried about the impact of drugs on the sport and follows his selection criteria (remember a team that was recently not invited because one of its members was found to not be "clean") he can and must follow this course of action.
As for the inclusion of so many Division II French teams... All this is going to do is provide a much larger than usual groupetto to keep the sprinters company during those stages that include serious climbing. Rather than increasing the health of French cycling, it will do nothing more than point out its continuing weakness and send even more sponsors scurrying to leave the sport. What sponsor wants to be associated with a team that is consistently "off the back" struggling to make the cut-off on all but the most easy stages?
Rather than giving French cyclists something to work for (notice the inclusion of the word WORK) all Leblanc's efforts will do is continue the notion that "because it's on our soil we deserve to be included." I have too much respect for the French people to believe that this is how they desire THEIR race (as opposed to Leblanc's) to be run. It would not surprise me that, as members of these Division II teams fall off the back, they are rightfully scoffed at by their fellow countrymen. The TdF belongs to the French people and cycling fans around the world not a small group of back-room politicos who are able to decide which teams to include or not include based upon the degree to which the "players" (hello Mr. Riis) engage in boot licking, brown-nosing, and ingratiating themselves with the officials.
Objective standards for inclusion in all major races (not just the Grand Tours) must be developed and put into place by the UCI as soon as humanly possible. If TdF organizers do not wish to comply, the UCI should refuse to sanction the race in the future thereby ensuring that what is becoming a mediocre event takes place in obscurity.
Shocked about the selection? No. It is about money, French Francs, lots of them. It's about percentages of the return on investments, money, French Francs, lots of them. France will take care of their own first not only because it is France but because it is about money.
The decision M. Leblanc took seems to me more the effects of the interests of a few than the interest of the sport as such, generally speaking. What I cannot understand what is the need in such a hypocrisy? If the Société du Tour declares that the wild cards would be selected upon the best interest of the Société, nothing to say. They can do whatever they want. Conversely, if they declare that the selection process would be according to sport criteria and merits, then what are the results of a team like Big Mat, for example? Of course, everybody knows how the French are.
The UCI should play a role in all this. I believe there should be some system like in football. Tour de France should be the equivalent to the champion's league. Only the best should be there. What is the purpose of having different divisions? I still don't understand its logic. It would be adequate that the first 16 or 17 of Division I would be directly accepted for the Tour de France, six or eight weeks before its start. Also, the two or three first teams of Division II by that time. A similar system should be found for the Giro and Vuelta, the equivalent of the UEFA . Having a system like that would force teams to be active all the season, making the big tours more internationally oriented.
Up until this point I have tried to remain objective about the selection committee's choices for the wild card spots for the Tour, but with the breaking news that CSC rider Bo Hamburger has tested positive not for a high haematocrit level, but for EPO use, I'm in shock that the CSC team hasn't been sacked from the Tour. Mercatone-Uno was excluded because of Pantani's lack of form and the team's drug scandals, but CSC is now under the same cloud and no one can believe that Jalabart could possibly arrive at the start of the Tour with any kind of fitness. All of the selection committee's claims have turned into a truck load of double standards. I'm all for including the lower category French teams in a French race, but quit hiding behind these grandiose claims of ethics and team conduct and let's quit claiming the Tour is the most important race in the world when its importance stems only from advertising and hype. Yes it's the oldest of the Grand Tours, but it's no more important than the Vuelta or Giro or the Classics.
Patrick Hartigan must have no shame. Suffer as Greg did, train as Greg did and Win as Greg did before you judge his actions and responses. Mercury is not alone in the list of 'should have been selected', but Jean-Marie has spoken and the proof will be in the pudding. The 2001 TdF is not the last tour. Have there not been experimental years in the past? TTT, Mountain TT, elimination of classic stages? We can all get over this nationalism of the Tour de France because mark my words, things will be different in 2002. Enjoy the race everyone.
It's all so very simple, the French don't want another strong American team in the Tour. The French hated it when Lance won two years ago, with an all-American team. They hated it when he won with the big names in the Tour last year. The last thing the French want it to have two powerful American teams in "their" tour. Frankly (and I know it would never happen) I would like to see the riders not show up for their TT, on day one. Really! Who cares, the Tour is not the best race as it once was, it's become a joke. Here we are folks, at the start of the Tour de France, stage "x", and the starting of the second class French teams, are about ready to give us another second class French show in today's stage! Too bad the top riders have crashed out of the race because the sloppy riding of the second class French teams have taking them out. Well folks enjoy watching the Tour de fake, bike race.
I can understand no Mercatone-Uno; everyone must have grave doubts about Pantani's form. However, not including Saeco seems difficult to justify. Saeco has the points to justify inclusion, they have a reasonable GC contender in Dufaux, and as far as sporting considerations go, who does not look forward to another exhibition of the art of sprinting from Cipollini? Regardless of other things, Cipollini is the classiest field sprinter in the peloton today, and the Saeco team is best qualified to give a lesson in how to lead out a rider.
I for one feel acute disappointment that I will not have the chance to watch the line of red jerseys blazing along the narrow roads into a French town, followed by Cipollini pulling away from the contenders while barely out of the saddle. Given that Cipollini is not so young, I feel it to be rather tragic that we do not get the chance to watch him on cycling's biggest stage of the year.
So let's ask Mr Leblanc, why no Saeco? It can't be lack of points, it can't be lack of a decent overall contender, and it is certainly not because they don't bring any sporting aspect or colour to the race. Perhaps Mr Leblanc can cite repeated and flagrant violations of his clothing code?
The last month's letters