News for May 3, 2001

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Tour de France wildcard reactions.

Yesterday's announcement of the last five wildcard places in this year's Tour de France has produced a storm of comment, especially from the managers and owners of teams that didn't make the final cut. The decision of Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to attempt to boost French cycling by including a total of eight French teams, five from Division II, is probably the most controversial selection for years. The exclusion of Tour attractions like Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani, and the hard-working and successful Mercury-Viatel squad, could easily make for a Tour lacking in surprising sub-plots to support the expected Ullrich/Armstrong duel.

Greg LeMond (Mercury Viatel spokesman): The only American to date to win the Tour three times, said he was "astonished and disappointed" that his team would not be starting the Grand Boucle. "I really believed we were going to take part," he said. If the decision had been made purely on the UCI rankings of team members, Mercury would certainly have been a shoe-in. Nine of its riders are in the current top 200; the eight French teams selected have a total of 13 top-200 riders.

Reflecting on the decision's impact on the team's sponsors, LeMond said, "For Viatel, it's not really serious, because the emphasis has been on other European races, but we are very disappointed for Mercury, who had been counting on the Tour to kick off a large national promotional campaign."

LeMond said he believed Mercury had been excluded because "there was a lot of pressure and political manoeuvring, which played a part. And I find that sad. The organisers were pressured to include two more French teams (BigMat and Franšaise des Jeux). Their decision was not always objective because some teams do not deserve to be there."

"If they had taken account of all the parameters our participation would have been assured today."

LeMond said he did not get involved in the politicking for wildcard places. "I could have called Jean-Marie Leblanc and tried to influence his decision. But I did not do that because I wanted the performances of the team and the facts to speak for themselves."

"The Tour de France is an international race. People want to see the best riders and the best teams of the moment and not only the French teams. I can't give an opinion on Leblanc because I was not there, but certain things have got to change. Changes must take happen in high places, at UCI level. That way we will have a more objective system."

Marco Pantani (Mercatone-Uno): An angry and disappointed Marco Pantani strongly criticised the Tour organisers after his Mercatone-Uno team was omitted from the Tour wildcard selections. "The owners of the Tour are killing cycling," he said. "My exclusion and that of Mario Cipollini signify the death of the Tour. I don't see the best riders at the start, and the public wants a spectacle not a business," said Pantani after yesterday's third stage of the Giro del Trentino.

"There is something wrong with this story. I believe that Pantani and Cipollini had the right to start because of the things they have done in the past, from 1994 to today," said Pantani. "M Leblanc has forgotten that in 1998 he asked me to take in hand a Tour that was in trouble. You saw that the Tour's stages wee made for me; now we see what really matters. You have to wonder why Hein Verbruggen has not intervened. I hope he will do so as soon as possible."

Leon van Bon (Mercury-Viatel): "I'm disappointed because they gave five instead of four wild cards. We are ranked number 11 on the UCI list and we are passed by a small team such as BigMat. That's very strange."

"My aim for the rest of the season? The USPRO Championship in June and the Autumn races."

Giuseppe Martinelli (Mercatone Uno directeur sportif): "It's a disillusionment. Until the last moment I believed we would start with Pantani in the Tour."

Claudio Corti (Saeco team manager): "It's a political and not a sporting decision. We don't want to openly criticise the organisers, who even announced they were sorry, but it seems clear that the problem of selection needs to be faced up to at the highest level of the sport. We need to return to clear logic of sporting rights which on this occasion has been completely turned upside down."

"A team -especially if it is ambitious and important like our team, cannot be created by improvisation and companies that invest millions cannot be asked to do so without having any guarantees. I believe this is a topic which our future and that of professional cycling will depend on."

In a press statement, the Saeco team said it believed that the decision taken has violated precise rules of sport. "Eleven of the teams chosen for the Tour de France are behind us in the UCI rankings - that is over 50 per cent," Corti said.

"Then -and this is the most bewildering aspect of the whole problem," Corti observed. "There is the decision adopted by the organisers of inviting a 21st team. This clearly confirms that certain decisions taken have been adopted following political logic and not sporting logic. It is paradox to note how the biggest race in the world has in that way given a incredible demonstration of provincialism."

Regarding the technical valuation expressed by the French organisers to explain their decision, Corti notes: "It's strange that they have only given a simple judgment," he said. "Our team is having a good season and has already won nine races with six different riders. Cipollini is getting better all the time and anyway has always done well at the Tour de France."

"I'm sorry that the organisers have a short memory. It also seems that the organisers have not considered the fact that our team has several riders capable of challenging for the overall classification. For example Laurent Dufaux has finished fourth at the Tour and ironically won a stage of the Giro del Trentino today."

The statement concluded that Saeco team would now be forced to reconsider its programme "And even from this point of view we'll obviously suffer," Corti added. "The only comfort we have is the huge amount of e-mail from all over the world which show the support of the public. This means that our team and the famous 'red train' have left a mark in the world of cycling, even if the organisers of the Tour de France have pretended to forget it."

Bjarne Riis (CSC-World Online managing director): "It's a great honour for us to be selected for the Tour, this is a day of celebration. Some might say that our results so far are a bit so-and-so but they are after all good enough to get us selected for the Tour de France. Of course Laurent Jalabert's presence on the team is important and the fact that he has shown some form lately. He has never come to the Tour with the same appetite as this year so the whole team will back him up."

Riis also allowed himself to coment on the selection of another two French teams: Francaise des Jeux and Big Mat. "I think the reason for selecting another two French teams is that the Tour management is defending the interests of French cycling and trying to forward some more capital to strengthen French cycling."

He also thought that Mercatone Uno had been side stepped since Marco Pantani isn't strong enough for the overall competition while a team like Mercury probably had been valued as a classics team and Saeco as one that concentrates on the Giro d'Italia. Riis considers CSC-Worldonline to be more all round that could win stages but also go for the general classification.

Twelve of the 22 riders have already been told to prepare for the Tour while the others will be riding for UCI ranking points. The twelve preliminary selected riders are: Laurent Jalabert, Nicolas Jalabert, Bo Hamburger, Tristan Hoffmann, Michael Blaudzun, Rolf S°rensen, Marcelino Garcia, Arvis Piziks, Francisco Cerezo, Michael Sandst°d, Nicolai Bo Larsen and Martin Rittsel. Others still have a chance if they should ride very strongly in the races to come.

Last year the wild cards were issued a month later and the team came exhausted to the Tour and had a mediocre, to say the least, result.

Alex Pedersen (CSC directeur sportif): "Good preparations are essential and with the riders we have we will deliver better results than last year."

Walter Godefroot (Telekom manager): "Is this a Tour for the French or is this the Tour de France? It isn't clear how they came to this selection."

Jeroen Blijlevens (Lotto) wasn't particularly surprised: "The choice of BigMat and La Franšaise des Jeux is strange. I preferred to see Saeco with Cipollini. They know how to keep the bunch together in the finale. That's a good tactic for me."

Marc Madiot (Franšaise des Jeux team manger): "It's a good morale boost for the French cycling teams. I'm very grateful to the SociÚtÚ du Tour de France."

Christophe Sercu (Lotto): "Our selection is normal. We got that Start ticket because of our racing results. To date we won 12 races and Lotto-Adecco is second in the UCI-ranking at the moment."

Leblanc defends selections

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc has explained the choice of the Tour's final five wildcards, saying the decision was "based on several parameters."

"Initially, the figures: results, placings, classifications and so on. Then, and perhaps most important, the potential of each team in the context of a three week race; the behaviour of the leaders; the generalprofile of the team, its average age, its possibilities, its style of operation. We chose in good faith."

"Three teams appeared to us to assert themselves: Lotto, Euskaltel, CSC. For the others we proceeded by elimination."

Explaining the decision to eliminate Mercatone-Uno and Marco Pantani, Leblanc said, "The team is currently last in the classification of Division I teams. It has worth only because of its leader, who did not finish the Tour last year or other races since then. We haven't seen Marco Pantani the cyclist for eight or nine months. How would you like us to be calm about Marco's current condition?"

Leblanc accounted for the inclusion of superficially weak French teams saying this was a forward-looking move. "The Tour made up its mind to show faith in the younger riders. We have two teams (BigMat and Franšaise des Jeux) who have made the same decision. We unanimously decided to give these teams a chance to show our support for French cycling in a concrete way. It's also a sign of a break with the previous era of cycling."

And now for something completely different

Nico Eeckhout has signed for another year with Lotto-Adecco on Tuesday. "I had two offers from foreign teams, but Lotto did a lot financially to keep me. And more UCI points throughout the season will mean more salary. I'm happy with this team, so why should I look for luck somewhere else?"

New Cycling Manager demo

Cyanide Studio has released a new demo of its team management game 'Cycling Manager'. We're assured by Cyanide's Patrick Pligersdorffer that this one is virus-free, and also as bug-free as a demo can be made. We've not had a chance to try it ourselves yet, so we don't know if this game, which is very much still in development, includes a module for composing disappointed or elated press comments depending on how the Tour wildcard selections affect your team. You can download the demo here.

IMBA Builds State rep network

For the first time in its 13 year existence, mountain bike access body IMBA has representatives in all 50 states, after the recent appointment of reps in Virginia and Arizona.

"State representatives are an important link between the main IMBA office and our clubs and members," said IMBA executive director Tim Blumenthal. "By having reps in all 50 states, IMBA can now provide faster and improved assistance to mountain bikers across the country."

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