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Tour de France News for July 1, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

ASO Weighs its overseas options

By Chris Henry

Daniel Baal
Photo: © Peter Geyer
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The Tour de France has made a tradition of expanding beyond the borders of France, visiting neighbouring European countries with stage starts/finishes and kicking off the "grand départ" outside of France on a regular basis. Last year's Tour began in Luxembourg, while 2004 will see the race start in Liège, Belgium.

This year, not surprisingly given the centenary celebrations, the Tour route is entirely French. Nonetheless, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs the Tour de France, continues to cast its eye farther afield and entertain the numerous requests from around the world for the privilege of hosting the world's biggest cycling race.

"Today, the Tour de France is invited frequently by other countries. London wants a Tour start, we will start in Liège next year, we receive requests from Germany, from the Netherlands... and also from America," explained Daniel Baal, ASO's director of cycling.

One day after returning from a trip to Québec, Baal sat down with Cyclingnews to discuss plans for the Tour, as well as possibilities for the race's geographic expansion in the coming years. While visits to European countries have become routine, the Tour has never crossed the Atlantic. In recent months, two candidates for a Tour start have been mentioned: Québec and New York City. The question remains, given the size and scope of the Tour, and the logistical challenges involved in moving the people and equipment that make up the Tour, are these murmurs from across the ocean serious?

"Quite formally from Québec, and New York is mentioned somewhat regularly," Baal said. "At this point we have not really looked at the requests. But we're not in a position to say no... keeping in mind that the Tour de France is the Tour de France. It's a three week sporting event, and the idea of traveling far away shouldn't compromise the event's credibility."

Québec's motivation for hosting a Tour start, planned for 2008, is one of historical significance. July 3, 2008 will mark Québec's 400th anniversary, and local officials are eager to compliment the enormous celebrations with a visit from France's greatest sporting event. Time is, for the moment, on Québec's side, as Baal and the Tour de France are not yet ready to commit to the venture. Indeed, an idea for a Tour start in the French department of Guadeloupe was already scrapped due to the logistical hurdles.

"We told the Québec that we are giving ourselves until the beginning of 2005 to study very carefully all of the logistical issues (transportation, stage times, transfers, rest days, etc.), and the sporting considerations," Baal explained. "I think that for the Tour de France, and for cycling, a start for the biggest event on the American continent would be good news. But for now we're not able to say yes or no.

As for New York, plans are considerably less concrete. In addition to the logistical considerations, the question of financing arises. Normally in France, cities and towns lobby- and pay- for the right to host a Tour stage start and/or finish, whereas a city such as New York might expect compensation of its own for the efforts involved in hosting a major sporting event on public roads. Not to mention the city's current budget crisis and ongoing efforts to host the 2012 summer Olympics.

"In our relationships with the cities, the cities are partners," Baal said. "We have our own partners. We don't believe that if we went to New York we could buy the start of the Tour, and then resell it. That sort of business is not our objective. After that it becomes a question of logistics."

Look for the full interview with Daniel Baal coming soon on Cyclingnews.

Savoldelli out of Tour

Team Telekom has lost another leader for the Tour de France, as 2002 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli has announced that he will forfeit his place for the Tour. Savoldelli has been suffering from a stomach ailment, and is not considered to be in good enough shape to contest the Tour. "It doesn't make sense to enter a race this difficult when you're sick," team doctor Lothar Heinrich commented.

Savoldelli's place in the team will be taken by fellow Italian Giuseppe Guerini, who is in fine form following his second place overall in the Tour de Suisse behind teammate Alexandre Vinokourov.

"Our initial ideas have changed a bit," Telekom spokesman Luuc Eisenga told Cyclingnews. "We had four really strong GC riders riding as a team with Savoldelli, Botero, Evans, and Vinokourov."

Now with Evans lost to injury and Savoldelli to illness, the plan has changed, although Eisenga has confidence in the line up. "I'm convinced that a guy like Guerini, who finished second at the Tour de Suisse, could do a really good race," he said. "He's not just a reserve."

Adding the Andreas Klöden has been coming into good form, Eisenga expects a solid team, but concerning just who would be the Telekom leader he added, "if you had to say, you'd think Botero and Vinokourov."

More Tour teams

Zabel on Ullrich

In an interview with Sport-Informations-Dienst, newly crowned German national champion Erik Zabel offered his thoughts on the upcoming Tour, and his former teammate Jan Ullrich. Zabel, already holder of the record of six green jerseys (1996-2001), is set to challenge for his seventh, proud to be entering the Tour with the German national champion's jersey on his back.

"I see it as a great honour," Zabel said of his national title, "to be able to wear the champion's jersey in the biggest bike race in the world."

Asked how this year's Tour might play out, with former leader Jan Ullrich on rival Team Bianchi, Zabel acknowledged that an informal alliance could present itself on the road. If strength in numbers is what will be necessary to defeat defending champion Lance Armstrong, Zabel can envision cooperation between Telekom and Ullrich.

"In cycling that happens frequently when teams have similar intentions," he explained. "Maybe we will form an alliance with Ullrich. If Armstrong is on the attack and Ullrich is chasing, we will try to ride with him in the chase."

Zabel sees his former teammate in good form, but like most, thinks Armstrong remains the heavy favourite. "Jan is highly motivated, but Armstrong will be hard to beat this year. Perhaps second or third place might be possible for Jan."

Date with destiny for Euskaltel

Iban Mayo
Photo: © CN
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Miguel Madariaga, manager of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, considers this year's Tour de France to be a crucial test for the Basque team. An extension of the team's sponsorship could depend largely on big results in the centenary Tour.

"A good performance in the Tour could be decisive in our efforts to secure sponsorship with Euskaltel and the other sponsors," Madariaga explained. "Everything is going well, and all we can do is hope."

In the midst of his sponsorship efforts, Madariaga will also have to work to keep his star performer Iban Mayo, who has announced openly that he is entertaining offers from other teams. Mayo, Euskaltel's leader for the Tour, finished second to Lance Armstrong in the Dauphiné Libéré in June, and showed a potential to at least challenge the American in the mountains as well as against the clock.

Madariaga said that negotiations are going well, and is counting on Mayo to lead the team to success in France. "It's our best team in three years," he added. "Iban is a great rider, for the Tour and for other races, and we expect a lot from him."

Leblanc to carry on

Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc has extended his contract with the Amaury Sport Organisation beyond 2004, the initial date announced for his retirement from the position. Leblanc, 59, has not announced just how long he will stay, but told l'Equipe that he was offered an extension by ASO president Patrice Clerc, and was happy to accept.

Daniel Baal, director of cycling with ASO, joined the organisation in 2001 after having served as head of the French Cycling Federation. Baal is expected to take the helm at the Tour de France when Leblanc retires, but concerning Leblanc's extension, said only, "I was recruited as assistant director, and I'm continuing my contract in that capacity."

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)

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