Ag2r team manager Vincent Lavenu says he won't dwell on the assessment his team isn't good enough foPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Almost as surprising as the decision to turn down Phonak's final appeal for a ProTour place was the UCI's licensing commission's verdict that French team Ag2r's appeal had also been rejected. The French team was widely regarded to have been unlucky to have missed out on selection in the first instance, and even more so when the latest non-selections were announced yesterday (Tuesday). According to Ag2r team manager Vincent Lavenu, his team's rejection was based not on ethical or financial grounds but because it was felt that the team would not be competitive enough. This was backed up by a comment from a member of the licensing commission, who said: "The admission of this team into the ProTour would weaken the level of competition." And this about a team that won two stages of the Tour de France among many other events last season. In reality, Ag2r's problem appears to be less one of competitiveness and more one of politics and geography. France, Spain and Italy each have four teams in the ProTour, and giving Ag2r a place would have tipped that balance in France's favour. Consequently, Lavenu and his 'weak' roster have lost out. How much weaker they are compared to, for example, Saunier Duval, who have lost team leaders Joseba Beloki and Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero in recent weeks, is open to considerable debate. Despite the setback, the indefatigable Lavenu has vowed to battle on with the aim of getting his squad into the ProTour in 2006. "It's better to smile about what they have said," he told L'Equipe. "It is now up to us to prove that the arguments put forward by these independent observers are not just. In 13 years in the pro ranks my team has taken 275 victories, two World Cup races, won eight stages of the Tour de France and worn the yellow jersey. We are not novices. We have been judged on the 2004 season and people who know cycling well know all too well that Ag2r has some quality riders. We are simply a young team that is going to progress." With the likes of Jean-Patrick Nazon, Cyril Dessel, Mark Scanlon, Andy Flickinger, Mikel Astarloza and Nicolas Portal improving all the time, Lavenu now plans to take his fight onto the roads. "We have worked hard to try to get into the ProTour and they have said no to us. That isn't going to change our desire to do well. We are going to battle just as we have always done, proving ourselves on the ground and ensuring that no one can forget us." Lavenu added: "We are still candidates for the ProTour in 2006. There are only 19 teams, one of which (Fassa Bortolo) only has a contract for one season. I have been given an assurance that we will be selected for the Tour de France and I thank the organisers for that. It is thanks to them that our team is remaining in existence."