Leblanc: 'Difficulties all the way'

Jean-Marie Leblanc explains the thinking behind the dropping of the mid-Tour TT, and insists the rac

Jean-Marie Leblanc explains the thinking behind the dropping of the mid-Tour TT, and insists the rac
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE For Jean-Marie Leblanc, yesterday's presentation of the 2005 Tour was particularly significant as it is set to be the last over which he will have overall control. He described what is an unusual looking route as having "difficulties spread all the way through. The route should mean that the race is extremely animated every day." Leblanc pointed out that the 2005 route has as many summit finishes as this year, but "the battlefield over which the favourites will be duelling has been widened." As for the decision to have only one long time trial, Leblanc explained that the demands of the opening stage required this. "Instead of a prologue we had to have a proper time trial of 19 kilometres. Taking into account that there will be the usual time trial on the penultimate day, another time trial in the middle of the race would have been too much, especially as there also is the team time trial between Tours and Blois," said Leblanc. The Tour boss also said that whether or not the Tour is part of the Pro Tour, it will be able to count on the participation of the best teams in the world, a point backed up by Patrice Clerc, president of the ASO group that owns the Tour. ASO is insisting on the introduction of an ethical charter backed by all of the teams taking part in the Pro Tour, and the removal of four-year-long licences for Pro Tour teams in order to provide some incentive to teams below them and to prevent stagnation at the top of the sport. As far as the ethical question is concerned, what the Tour and other major race organisers want is the right to prevent the participation in their events of any rider involved in a police or judicial doping inquiry. Agreement on this point could well be reached in the coming weeks as the Pro Tour teams are currently drawing up a charter which they will all sign in mid-December. However, there are as yet no details on what this charter will contain. The promotion/relegation issue appears more complicated in terms of a rapid resolution. The race organisers were not happy with the extension of the Pro Tour from 18 to 20 teams, effectively giving them fewer options when considering invites to their races. In addition, the organisers' suggestion of reducing the number of riders per team at the major tours to eight instead of nine has not been welcomed by the teams, who have had to sign up more riders in line with Pro Tour guidelines. A solution on this point could be reached inadvertently when the Pro Tour licences receive final confirmation in November. There are rumours of one or two teams falling short of the guarantees required and not having their licences confirmed, consequently reducing the Pro Tour to 18 or 19 outfits rather than 20. Of course, some teams that have missed out on selection might see a late opportunity for Pro Tour entry but Clerc declared he would see it "as a provocation if a team is left out and then it is replaced by another." All will be known in mid-November.
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