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Letters to Cyclingnews - May 23, 2003
More Tour de France wildcards letters
After Monday's announcement by Tour de France organiser ASO of the race's final four wild card selections and our previous letter's special, the emails continued to flood in from readers reacting to this year's decisions, and particularly to ASO's exclusion of Mario Cipollini's Domina Vacanze team.
Here is a selection of those letters - with a bit more sympathy from some quarters for Jean-Marie LeBlanc's position, and some ideas for ways to deal with the problem of the world's number one stage race having both domestic and international importance.
Meanwhile, we've a regular letters page too with comments on Italy's Grand Tour, doping, Epididymitis and lots more.
Please email your correspondence to email@example.com.
Letters about other things
A selection TTT
I think the selection criteria for the Tour can be changed, while keeping the focus on teams and the high drama which should be a part of the world's greatest race. First, I think some teams, perhaps 10 or so, should be locked in based on UCI points. Next, I think the Tour should borrow from auto racing. Specifically, I think any division I or II team should be able to show up and participate in a team time trial which takes place the day before the opening stage, prologue, or whatever. The performance in the team time trial will decide which teams fill out the field. The event would add drama, keep the focus on teams, and reward good teams which may not have enough points currently. For example, a team like Phonak could truly give it a go in this type of format. I think the fans would love it, and it would take some of the politics out of the event and shift the focus to performance. What better way to honor a great race? Just a thought.
Once again the cycling fans get cheated by the Tour de France organizers. We just want a chance to see all the great cyclist race against each other to determine who is the best sprinter, climber, time trialist, and overall rider. TdF has always been natural venue for this, but no more. It is clear that fans can not expect that anymore. Jean-Marie Leblanc uses TdF to promote French cycling over international cycling and seemingly to fight his own petty wars against riders such as Cipollini and Pantani. This is increasingly making TdF booooooring.
That is why a 3-week stage race has to be created that is under the control of UCI. A 3-week stage race in which riders are selected on merit and not nationality. A stage race in which all the best riders are present and where the fans get to see all the great names of cycling racing against each other. A stage race which promoted international cycling, not French cycling. I'm tired of expecting to see all the best riders in TdF and then be disappointed by the TdF organizers year after year.
This is what needs to happen:
* UCI finally needs to exert some international leadership and create a 3-week
Can it happen? Sure. TdF is the biggest event partly because of its tradition but primarily because it is viewed by the media as having all the best riders present. Take the best riders away, and TdF will rapidly loose its prestige. TdF has, and probably rightly so, the promotion of French cycling in its interest over international cycling. But it cannot then expect also to be the center piece of international cycling. That demands responsibility in promoting international cycling and inviting the world champion. Who cares if he can get over the mountains, you know that Cipollini will give us some great moments even if he only rides two stages. So UCI could we please see some leadership from your side and create an alternative to the increasingly boring TdF. Not even the French public could be excited about seeing Jean Delatour riding in the TdF on the expense of Cipollini.
While I understand the reasoning behind the well nigh universal outcry over Cipo's exclusion from the Tour de France, there is another side to consider. How many French teams are in the tour compared to the number of Italian teams in the Giro or Spanish teams in the Vuelta? Were all the big riders invited to the Giro? The Vuelta? The Italians and Spanish show favoritism and everyone yawns. The French do it and people cry for LeBlanc's execution. There have already been some expulsions and relegations in this year's Giro that smack of good old local boy favoritism. And what about that year when they used the TV helicopters to help an Italian win? Or when they had no climbers and all stages were flat as a pancake? But remember, it is the Tour de France, not the Tour de World.
If the Italians are really that upset, why don't they put out the money and prize funding and organization to outshine the Tour? Let's see all the big riders in the Giro or the Vuelta. Let's see the huge crowds all up and down the mountains of Italy and Spain like what you see in France, instead of the mostly empty roadsides. If you're not invited to a big party, throw a bigger one on your own. But don't condemn someone for doing something you have already done yourself to a far greater extent. The Giro and Vuelta are already more interesting to me than the Tour (for the past few years). Maybe they ought to use this outcry as an opportunity to try to close the gap between themselves and the Big One in France.
Joel (just trying to stir the pot a little) Williams
Make a special composite team of Ulrich, Cipollini and Pantani with one or two domestiques each. The could have a special jersey and would attract great interest. they are all experienced men with a wealth of racing and team tactical knowledge.
Could Cipo win with only two domestiques?? I think so.
Could Ullrich and Pantani complement each other?? Of course Pantani could win a stage while working the mountains for Jan . Jan rides time trials by himself anyway.
This is not a joke. Similar things have been done before.
I will miss Mario at the Tour. I missed him last year as well. Zabel is a great guy and outstanding athlete, but he's no Mario. Having said all that, LeBlanc has to keep the French interested in this race as it is their economy which floats the boat so to speak. Without French towns being interesting in hosting stages, without French companies being sponsors, none of this will happen. That's why he brings in as many French teams as he can. Hey, how many French teams are at the Giro?
Raymond F. Martin
Regarding one of the teams suggested for removal to make room for Cipollini:
"Quick Step (may surprise a few people): This team has and always will be a World Cup and Classics team. in spite of their world team ranking, they should just stay home because they don't have any serious GC contenders. Sorry Bettini!"
Like the GC contenders on Domina Vacanze? Quick Step can certainly stir things up for a stage win or two and could really make Cipollini's team work to bring things back together for a field sprint. The tour team selections should reflect a balance that make the race interesting at all levels - from long-range attacks to field sprints to the jersey competitions.
I wish "The Tour" would just go away. How many potentially great riders have ruined their careers by putting all their eggs in "The Tour" basket? Boardman, Olano, Hampsten, Leipheimer etc... All great riders who could have won a lot more races (Tour stages or otherwise) if they did not waste their time with "The Tour". My best memories of "The Tour" are the incredible sprints of Cipo, Zabel as well as the great stage wins by Jalabert, Pantani, and the awesome Eros Poli on Ventoux. The race for the yellow jersey is pretty boring lately. Lance attacks the last 5km in the mountains, Lance wins the TT, yawn.
The Giro and Vuelta are much more exciting in terms of the race for the overall, the Classics are a whole other level above that. All "The Tour" really shows is who can peak the best in July. The real excitement is in the individual stages and to not invite the greatest sprinter in favor of a crappy (non-negative drug testing) local team or worse still holding a spot for drunk driving, recreational drug enthusiast Jan Ullrich. That is just retarded.
With all of the troubles surrounding the balancing act of getting more French teams into their national Tour without excluding any of the world's other top riders, why doesn't the ASO considers reducing the number of riders per team? If each team were to only have 8 riders, Leblanc could add two more teams to the race and actually reduce the overall number of riders by 6. Or he could add 3 teams and only increase the number of riders by 2. Wouldn't this help everyone involved?
I am equally outraged by the Tour's political selections, but boycotting the tour is not the answer. I am not going to deprive myself of Zabel and McEwen sprints for M. Leblanc.
A better approach is to go to the official Tour website and obtain a list of their sponsors and send each sponsor an e-mail advising that you are now going to stop using their product because of their association with the corrupt Tour organizers. I will be doing that this evening and hope you will all join me.
None of us can be truly surprised that JM LeBlanc has not invited Cipollini to the Tour. Without attempting to examine the national psyche of the French, it becomes clear that LeBlanc doesn't want any larger than life personalities anywhere near his race. To him, the race is about France, the route, the history, and not the personalities. He is, of course, wrong as he is not thinking about the history of the race at all. He says the Tour de France is a "race and not a show". This year is the centenary Tour de France, and he is trying to replicate the early days - wasn't the whole event created one hundred years ago by Henri Desgrange purposefully as a show to promote his journal "L'Auto"? I'm sure someone in the mould of Mario Cipollini would have done wonders for the event.
There are other arguments of course: why should LeBlanc and the Tour organisation pick a rider who isn't going to finish the course? Fair enough, but isn't that down to the individual directeurs sportifs whose decision it is to select the riders in the teams. Last time I looked the Domina Vacanze team had a fairly sizeable roster - and some pretty useful riders. Who is to say that Cipollini isn't going to finish the course? Perhaps he dreams of crowning his career with a glorious sprint down the Champs Elysées in the rainbow jersey? What a sight that would be, but we will have to keep on waiting. Should we select teams whose leader has no intention of finishing? We know for a fact, and he has not hidden it, that Robbie McEwen will not be in Milan at the end of the Giro d'Italia. There is no leader in the Lotto team (okay, so Rik Verbrugghe was unlucky, but he wouldn't have been challenging for the pink jersey just as Chavanel, Brochard, Laiseka and the leaders of 17 other teams in July won't be challenging for the yellow jersey).
The thing about the Tour - and this makes it a great race - is that it lasts for three weeks and there are races within races. In the first week we will see the sprinters showing their speed and bike handling around the streets of Northern France. Like as not this will be a tussle between McEwen and Zabel as main challengers for the green jersey (seen that before), then the time trial which will be between Botero and Armstrong (seen that before), and then the mountains where Armstrong will, like as not, crush the opposition, before allowing victories in stages to good climbers like Virenque, Boogard and the odd Kelme pro (seen that before). Then the Champs Elysées where the green jersey could be decided and the yellow jersey is in the bag (seen that before) and the lesser French riders (of which there are a few) will be trying to attack the whole day out of pride (or should that be guilt from doing nothing for the previous twenty days). Definitely seen that before.
However, and my apologies to Mario who I would love dearly to see on the start line outside the Réveil-Matin in Paris, and even though the race will be akin to watching repeats of rubbish old sitcoms on the BBC, I will be strangely drawn to the event. You never know what might happen.
It seems to me that Leblanc's reasons for keeping Mario Cipollini out of this year's Tour de France are weak, at best, and that Leblanc is working toward making the Tour a provincial race. I understand that it's France's grand tour, and that French teams should be represented, but to exclude the team of the reigning world champion based on the reasons that Leblanc has put forward is pure foolishness. I'll take them point by point.
First, the argument that Cipo is too old to compete with younger sprinters. Sure, Petacchi bested him a few times in the opening week of the Giro, but he's still holding off the likes of McEwen...no small task, I'm sure. Leblanc, I'm sure, would admit that there is more to a sprint than raw power, and is probably aware of the old adage about age and experience besting youth and all it entails.
Secondly, the argument about Cipo never finishing the Tour. Armstrong had only finished once before 1999, bowing out in the mountains several times. Tour history is much richer for his team's inclusion as a wild-card in 1999, and I'm sure that the 2003 Tour would be much richer with Cipollini and his team in the race. Furthermore, it's a lot easier to finish the Tour when you're actually allowed to ride in it.
Lastly, the argument about poor form. What if ADR has been left out of the Tour in 1989 because of LeMond's run of bad luck from early 1987 up through the Giro that year? Plenty of riders find their legs as the season progresses and Cipo, I'm sure, is no different. Here's a little hint to Mr. Leblanc: everyone has poor form early in the season -- the legs haven't fully awakened yet. Hey, Armstrong's been looking a bit rough in the early season, not winning two races that he "should have", according to the press...are you going to cut US Postal-Berry Floor from the Tour, too?
Cipollini is a great racer and has been a consistent winner for over a decade now, he's the reigning world champion, and he's coming up on retirement. With all the history and character he has brought to the Tour de France in the past and for all the character he brings to professional cycling, the sport is lucky to have had him. The Tour de France would be lucky to have him. But Jean Marie Leblanc is too blind to see it. His history, his character, and his palmares merit it. But Jean Marie Leblanc is too deaf to listen to reason.
To all people bemoaning about the exclusion of Mario Cipollini from the Tour de France:
You have to go back to what the original organizers of the Tour de France had in mind... It was supposed to be a very grueling race, with every kilometer of the way counting... Yes, Cipollini is a great sprinter, but that is as far as he goes... Time and again he has shown that he is not up to the real challenge of the Tour: to reach Paris on your bike! There's still plenty of really good sprinters out there (Zabel, Steels, McEwen) who can also finish the Tour, I'll be happy with them contesting the green jersey in July...
Legislation will not make the TdF the most competitive race as possible. After all, who will legislate what ? It is Leblanc's race and he has the right, even in France, to invite who he pleases. Of course, he runs the risk of alienating sponsors and fans along with the reputation of the race. After all, he is runs the race and is responsible for it's stewardship. In my opinion, the inclusion of a mediocre French team, at the expense of Cipollini, will place an asterisks next to the results of any sprint finish. On the other hand, hopefully Ullrich will get to ride.
"The French have done it again." The French? I could say that blaming an entire nation for the erroneous decision of a small group of people is a typical American habit but I'm not a narrow-minded chauvinist.
I agree that Domina Vacanze should have been invited to the Tour and Jean Delatour shouldn't have. I think that Jean-Marie LeBlanc is a hypocritical businessman who still hasn't understood that the Tour de France is an international race and that French teams shouldn't be patronized by the ASO.
Nevertheless I think that Brioches La Boulangere and AG2R deserve their nominations for the Tour because of their good results this year. BLB is ranked 13th and AG2R 11th in the 2003 UCI rankings , which is not that bad for two "pathetic little clubs". I wonder why the big $7million US Postal team is only ranked at position 24?
In your letter you say that "they" have excluded Mario Cipollini and that "they" have attacked Lance Armstrong in "their" media etc. Who are "they"? Is there a big conspiracy going on?
Believe it or not, the French are not a homogeneous unity. You have been influenced by the anti-French campaign in the US-media. That's not really surprising cause you get the same propaganda on every TV station.
Don't blame 'The French' #2
A "typical French move"? Do you really believe in things like "typical French moves" rather than decisions made by particular people for particular reasons that you may or may not agree with? I guess thinking that way would be a "typical American move". I don't agree with LeBlanc either, just considering the sheer economic value of spectacle of seeing Cipollini try to finish the race. But LeBlanc's motives, and the political, cultural and economic forces that he has to respect and contend with, are not that confusing or strange (or uniquely French). I'm not sure why people seem so 'bewildered'. And I doubt that LeBlanc is, as another letter referred to him, an imbecile. Though it is a French word.
Let's see, if an event of the significance -- cultural as well as sporting -- of the Tour de France were held on American soil and run by American administrators and sponsored largely by American corporations, I wonder if there wouldn't be just a tiny bit of manipulation of the invitations to favor big-money American teams and sponsors (if such a thing existed outside of USPS). Would that be possible? Gee, that would be so "French" of us !
But no, I'm sure you're right, it's just those damned 'French' and 'that's the way they are'. And what exactly are you going to boycott and who cares? Political activism defined as turning off your television at some strategic point is such an "American way to think".
Get a grip.
Don't blame 'The French' #3
While I too feel strongly that Domina Vacanze should have been included in this year's Tour, I have to take issue with the general tone of the majority of letters that were posted. I am American, but I am just about fed-up with all of the France-bashing (I noticed that most of your letters were from the USA)--if my country, these United States of America, was hosting the biggest race of this year, I guarantee that at least some (pretty loud) noise would be being made to exclude all of the French teams (and probably the German as well) from participating--qualified, as well as wild cards. After all, my fellow countrymen and women are political and petty enough themselves to think that calling "French fries" (which come from Belgium, actually), "freedom fries," is a sign of patriotism.
I do not doubt that the Tour decision regarding Mario is personal--he has repeatedly insulted the Tour organizers over the years and they are in a position to make him pay for it. Such tit-for-tatting is petty and inappropriate--it hurts the sport, but it is not "political." Had Armstrong and USPS been kicked out, that decision would have been political. Look at the teams and riders in the Giro and Vuelta--they are overwhelmingly Italian and Spanish, respectively. The Tour organizers want to promote French cycling and cyclists--given that the Tour is a French sporting event, such a motive is not illegitimate.
As for the teams included at Cipo's expense--perhaps the least justifiable was Euskaltel, which is not French and has had a lackluster season to date. As for Jan and his team catastrophe, I am not sure he merits a spot this year--and saying that saddens me, as I would rather watch him ride and lose, than watch Armstrong ride and win, any day. I hope that this opens his eyes to the fact that Pevenage et al are not working for his interest, but for their own at his expense and will inspire him to jettison them all soon.
Kelly C Milam
PS: By the way, I am from Texas (I lived there for the first 27 years of my life--"little" is not a word that anyone with half a brain would use to describe it. Texas is a country-sized state, as opposed to France being a state-sized country).
I would just like to congratulate you on the job you have done covering this selection issue. Not only was I impressed by the Letters Special and Opinion Poll being put up so quickly but also that the readers have been so on the ball in their response to the issue. It is strange what issues tickle readers the wrong way, yet I completely agree with them. Despite the fact that recently I have always had occasion to add my two cents where Cipo and Ullrich are concerned there really is nothing left to say... except this. Hats off to the Cycling news team for excellent coverage of the issues that matter to cyclists. Also for the solid and exciting Giro coverage, though unfortunately I've been late since it started. What drama, this beats the hell out of the Tour so far!
I do want to say though, that despite the calls for boycotting the tour and despite the predictability of it I will be watching whatever coverage I can because hey, it's the Tour de France, the only bike race I can see on TV. Besides, I love Zabel too, and Telekom looks like it will put on one hell of a show this year if they organize it right and don't try to do too much. As far as I'm concerned though Robbie McEwen was wrong when he said the green jersey was more prestigious that the Giro's purple. Look at the stellar performances that won it last year! Look at the stellar performances that have contested it so far this year! Sorry Robbie but the reason we don't talk about Cipo's points jersey last year was because he accomplished a lot more than that. You did well to Win the Green and break Abel's run in the dramatic final sprint in Paris and for reason like these I will watch the tour, even if it is not nearly as exciting as it could be.
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