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92nd Tour de France - GT

July 2-24, 2005

Tour de France news for October 28, 2004

How many Grand Tour teams?

By Tim Maloney, European Editor In Paris

AIGCP member Jean-René Bernaudeau is in favour of smaller teams
Photo: © Régis Garnier
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How many teams and riders per team should take part in a Grand Tour? That's a key question raised today in Paris at a meeting of the AIGCP (International Association Of Professional Cycling Teams), which is currently examining a proposal jointly fronted several weeks ago by the organizers of the three Grand Tours, the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana. With no decision as to whether the three most important race organizers (ASO-France / RCS-Italy / Unipublic-Spain) will even participate in the UCI's ProTour in 2005, these key players were seeking a way to include more teams in their events by reducing the number of riders per team in Grand Tours. The organizers' logic is that with the UCI rules stipulating a maximum of 200 riders able to start a Grand Tour, a one-man reduction to eight riders per squad would enable up to five additional wild-card teams from the 'Continental', or non-ProTour ranks to start a Grand Tour.

Currently Grand Tours have nine-rider teams, but if the Grand Tours become part of the ProTour circuit, then all 20 ProTour teams will take part in each of the three races. That will leave only two spots for wild card teams, which will be a problem for teams such as Ag2r, Formaggio Trentino and Relax-Paternina that usually are invited to the Giro, Tour and Vuelta, respectively. These minor teams usually bring a spark of excitement to the tours, as they are highly motivated to get their sponsors' logos in front of the TV cameras. But the Pro Tour format means most of them will be forced to sit out the Grand Tours if the nine-rider structure remains. However, the AIGCP is divided on the merits of the idea with key members opposing the change and blocking progress on this issue.

Outgoing AIGCP president Manolo Saiz (Liberty Seguros) is staunchly against eight-man teams, telling L'Equipe unequivocally, "We [AIGCP] have nothing to offer [the organizers]... we're against it." However, not all Saiz' colleagues on the AIGCP share this stance. Jean-René Bernaudeau (Bouygues Telecom) said, "We also have to think of the teams that are not in the ProTour... if this [eight-man team structure] is they way these teams can get in the Tour, that's the price to pay, we have to do it. Our team has always chased an invitation [to the Tour de France] and we can't forget that experience."

Discovery Channel's Johan Bruyneel reserved judgment on the eight-man team formula, but when the 2005 Tour de France is announced today in Paris, the AIGCP may not have any choice if ASO and the other organizers chose smaller teams and more wild cards in 2005. As the UCI has not built any provision into the ProTour for teams to cycle in and out of the new top league over the four year license period, this eight-man team formula may be the only chance that smaller teams get to ride a Grand Tour.

Tour route announced today

One time trial, fewer mountain finishes

Tour de France director Jean-Marie LeBlanc will unveil the route of the 2005 Tour later today at the Palais des Congrès, Paris and already rumours are circulating about the broad shape and nature of the world's number one stage race.

According to reports in the European press, leaked details of the 2005 route include a reduction in the number of time trial stages to just one, plus a longer-than-normal 19km prologue, and only three mountaintop finishes. The 2004 Tour, which saw a dominating sixth successive victory by Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team, featured two individual time trials and four mountain finishes.

The 2005 Tour will start on the island of Noirmoutier in the Vendee region of western France on July 2 and will makes its way round the country in a clockwise direction, tackling the Alps, then the Pyrenees before arriving for the traditional finish on the Champs Elysses on July 24. The sole time trial will be on the penultimate day, in St Etienne.

Lance Armstrong is not expected to attend today's launch, but other current cycling stars will be present including Ivan Basso (3rd in 2004) and current world number 1 Damiano Cunego. Top French riders Thomas Voeckler and Christophe Moreau will also attend, and the recently retired Richard Virenque will be honoured for his seven victories in the King of the mountains contest.

Étape du Tour revealed

Cyclingnews has learned that the Tour de France's popular 'people's race,' the Étape du Tour will follow the route of one of the Pyrenean stages in 2005. The ride will start in Mourenx and finish in Pau, where the 2003 edition started.