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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
Cyclingnews spoke with a number of past Tour winners and current contenders at the Tour 2003 launch in Paris to assess their thoughts on this year's parcours.
Laurent Fignon (1983-1984 winner)
Speaking about the Tour De France banquet on the eve of the announcement of the Centenary Tour De France, two time winner Laurent Fignon said "Our dinner was filled with emotion and a very nice evening to be together with all of these great riders."
Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990 winner)
"I think it's a nice Tour. It's not particularly hard, and it's a good 'dosed' race, I guess you'd say. I always look at the course as kind of irrelevant. The strongest usually wins, on a hard course or an easy course. You have you be at your best in July."
"I think they're right to keep it traditional. It's not overly difficult, not too easy, but I don't think it's the hardest Tour. This is very similar to the 1985 Tour, where it wasn't so hard at the beginning, and the Alps stages were fairly easy."
On the Tour de France banquet, Lemond said that "I think it's good that the Tour is doing this - it will be one of the last times that you can get 21 Tour De France winners together like that."
"It was neat to see the riders that I looked at when I was coming up - I told Eddy Merckx that he was the rider that I modeled my career objectives on when I was a young rider. It was unfortunate that Luis Ocana couldn't be here for this - and it was great to see some of the older riders. To see all these guys, it kind of puts the history of cycling in perspective, too. I think that when you are a racer, you always think that your days are the most important days of cycling. Then you look back and you understand that every year was just as important (as your time)."
"Riders can tend to be self-centred. I recall looking back at the videos of when I turned pro and I was racing the Tour De France in '83 and '84 and I thought that it was more competitive than in '79. But from '84 to my last Tour de France, the competitiveness of the race never really changed. You're racing against what the current situations are, so it doesn't make one (Tour de France) better than another."
Pedro Delgado (1988 winner)
"This is a very balanced Tour De France; certainly the big favourite will be a rider who is strong in time trials. This is not a Tour for the best climbers. So number one favourite is Lance Armstrong, and also Jan Ullrich. For we Spanish, we have a lot of hope that Aitor Gonzalez will do well in this Tour. He is a strong time trialist and is good in the mountains. No, he's not a climber but with the climbs in this Tour, I think Gonzalez can do very well."
Miguel Indurain (1991-1995 winner)
"I think it will be a good balance between climbing and time trials. It looks hard in the Pyrenees."
Bjarne Riis (1996 winner)
The 1996 winner who is now directeur sportif of CSC-Tiscali commented that the 2003 Tour is "A good route. It is not all that challenging, but I think that it will suit our style of racing well. I think that the 68km team time trial will be very important and we will be aiming for the yellow jersey on that day. Generally speaking, next year's Tour requires a coherent team effort from our riders who have to be able to defend the yellow jersey in the event that we should succeed in taking it early on in the race."
"There will only be two very tough mountain finishes. And, on many stages, the toughest climbs are placed far away from the finish. Therefore, I believe that the time trials will be very important for the final outcome of the race."
"It was a great experience to be celebrated along with such prominent cycling personalities. It reminded me of the significance of this race. A Tour de France win ensures a prominent and prestigious place in the history books."
Jan Ullrich (1997 winner)
"I think it's a beautiful Tour de France next year, and it's the hundredth year. I think it's very important next year."
Cyclingnews also asked Ullrich about how he is feeling at the moment. "I'm feeling good - the knee is now 100% and I'll be starting my training in two weeks for next season."
On his mental outlook, Ullrich commented, "Yeah, that's good too. I'm looking forward to next year - I'm not looking back but looking ahead. My knee is better, I can start with the training and I'll have a new team, maybe in a few weeks so that's great."
Gilberto Simoni (Saeco-Longoni Sport)
"I like the idea that the race goes to the Alps right away," said Simoni. "It's not going to be one of the toughest Tours and it goes along with the characteristics of the race. I think that some hard mountain stages in the beginning of the race can make it more interesting, even if I believe that this Tour is tailor made for Armstrong."
Simoni also commented about the team selection. "A professional sport needs to be organised. It's unthinkable that athletes, teams as well as sponsors, do not know well in advance if they will take part in the most important stage race, and above all, that the participation does not only depend on the ability of the teams and riders. The Tour de France represents for cycling, what the World Cup represents for football: how much credibility would the football world cup lose, if the teams were just invited rather than qualifying on the field?"
Claudio Corti (Saeco-Longoni Sport manager)
"It looks like a similar course to the typical Tour; the team time trial is quite long and there are some good stages that have mountain top finishes. We especially like l'Alpe d'Huez; that's something special. For next year, I believe that Saeco-Longoni Sport has all the characteristics to participate in this Tour."
Richard Virenque (Domo-Farm Frites)
"There's something for everyone... for the sprinters, climbers, rouleurs, and attackers. It's the hundredth anniversary, and the Société du Tour is going to do its best to celebrate that. And we the riders will do our best to mark this Tour, for sure."
Roger Legeay (Credit Agricole director)
"It's born out of tradition, with a flat portion, followed by shorter individual time trials, and a longer team time trial. The Alps aren't too difficult, but nonetheless include l'Alpe d'Huez and the Col d'Izoard, After that come the Pyrenees for four days, but they're also not too difficult. It's going to be a traditional Tour, a bit come 2002, very nervous."
Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole)
"I like the Alpe d'Huez stage a lot. When you combine the Galibier and a finish at l'Alpe d'Huez, you really have the heart of the Tour, even if the Pyrenees are also exciting. Personally I like the Alps, and this stage [stage 8] really impressed me."
Vincent Lavenu (AG2R Prevoyance director)
"It's a very nice course and today I was really moved by the presentation of the 100th anniversary edition and all that means. To see all the (TDF) champions here today was extraordinary. As for the parcours, it doesn't seem that hard to me. It seems quite open, quite nervous with two major mountain stages, especially the Pyrenees stages - the time trials are reasonable as well. Certainly a great rouleur, for sure Armstrong will be a favourite."
Jean-Paul Brochon (France Info Radio reporter)
The veteran of 37 Tours De France, 31 on the radio motorcycle told Cyclingnews that "This is a very nice, well balanced Tour De France; it will cover all the important geography in France and will touch the history of the Tour; the founders and those who have created the legend of the Tour. The problem now is to find the right person to beat Lance Armstrong and it could be Jan Ullrich if he finds the right director sportif. The first indicators will come early in the team time trial on the 4th day of racing."
Tour bosses Patrice Clerc and Jean-Marie Leblanc issued the following statement about the Centenary Tour de France at the launch in Paris today.
"This year it is not an ordinary Tour de France that we are preparing, but this rare and significant event, the Centenary edition of the greatest cycling competition in the world.
This has been in our thoughts for the last few years. In order to celebrate this event we have already set up important operations with the Paris Mint, and with the Post Office, for the fabrication of a commemorative medal and stamp. The magnificent book from our friends at L'Equipe counting the 100 years of the Tour has just appeared, and, on the television and the radio, retrospectives, documentaries, series, will see the day over the next few months. Along with exhibitions, and special animations for young people, and celebrations.
Many more ideas will appear before next July. We ourselves have already glorified in our own way these hundred years of the Tour de France with the Centenary poster, which idealizes our competition's past, and which will be reproduced on the route by the Centenary caravan; along with a new logo, a new personality, open to modernity, to the future, to the youth of today, because we would like to see the values of the Tour perpetuated for a long time to come.
But the race in all that, you may say?
The race, we cannot - the rules are what they are - and nor do we want to, change it, to break its balance and its logic which give it its credibility: there will be no more mountain stages than usual, no less time trials than usual; no excessively long distances or untimely difficulties. All is measure and reason. This is what we expect of the Tour de France today, in the straight line of sporting ethics that should not be provoked in favour of the attraction of the show alone.
Yet, we will have a very pretty Tour route, via the emphatic and symbolic allusion that we wanted to make to 1903. For, just as in 1903, we will set off from Paris and the l'Ile de France area - the famous Réveil-Matin in Montgeron still exists - and just as in 1903, we will pass through Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes; and even Ville d'Avray, on the last day.
And, diverging from the route of the first Tour de France, we will pay tribute to the memory of its forefathers, Géo Lefèvre, Henri Desgrange and Jacques Goddet; we will visit its symbolic places, the Galibier, the Alpe d'Huez, the Izoard, the Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden; we will remain faithful to those who have been faithful to us, Bordeaux and Pau, but also Morzine, Ariège, the Hautes-Pyrénées... And we will also innovate, by exploring Cap'Découverte, in the Tarn region, or the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse: nine new towns in total will figure on our route.
One hundred years later, without moving away from its fundamental points of reference, the Tour de France wants to retain its pioneering spirit.
Patrice Clerc, President of Amaury Sport Organisation