Leblanc reflects on first week

A third of the way through his final Tour as the race director, Jean-Marie Leblanc reflects on how t

A third of the way through his final Tour as the race director, Jean-Marie Leblanc reflects on how t

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Tour de France co-director Jean-Marie Leblanc has given his views on what is his last Tour in the organisational hot seat, reflecting on everything from the dominance of the sprinters during the first week to Lance Armstrong's absence, as well as more controversial issues.

Speaking to AS, Leblanc rebutted CSC team manager Bjarne Riis's comments about the first week being boring because there had been so many sprints. "If we were to put mountains at the start of the race we would be criticised for making the race too hard, they would say it was impossible without doping. And the Tour could also be decided right at the start and then there would be no excitement. And, of course, sprinters are a key part of cycling as well," Leblanc countered.

The Frenchman also thinks the Tour is better without Armstrong's presence. "I've got nothing about him but if he had come for his eighth title we would have been speaking about the same things again, his control, the strength of his team, his strategy, and his rivals would have come with the same attitude. But they have had to change, to adopt new tactics and to improvise. Nobody knows who is going to win the Tour, and I don't mind at all who it is," he admitted.

He also said that the Tour is better off without the likes of Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich. "It's unacceptable for the Tour to have riders who are doped or involved in doping rings," he stated. "I think the Tour is better for this, it is more interesting because we are going to discover new riders, like the German [Marcus] Fthen. A new Ullrich will emerge, a new Basso."

Leblanc said he had not spoken with any of those ejected from the Tour last week, and added that he had no desire at all to talk to controversy-mired Astana team manager Manolo Saiz. "Look, I'm at the end of my career. That man has soured things for me, he's annoyed me in my final Tour. It has been shown that he has been lying to me for years. I've got nothing to say to him. I won't waste any more time and energy on a man like Saiz."

Leblanc admitted he would be in favour of some restriction on the use of earpieces in order to return some element of uncertainty to the race. "I think it would be better if only two riders per team were to wear earpieces, so that they could be given any vital information and for security purposes. Riders have to be able to improvise," he commented.

Finally, he turned to criticism of Armstrong attributed to the Tour boss some weeks ago. "It was written somewhere that I said the Tour de France deserved a winner who wasn't Lance Armstrong, but I never said that. What I did say was that the laboratories have shown that in the 1999 Tour there was EPO in Armstrong's samples, and I believe in the efficiency of these laboratories. The American hasn't responded to that. What he has done is talk of a plot between the French ministry of sport, the Tour. I am not saying he was doped in 2000 or after that. What I am saying is that there was EPO in his sample in 1999. And I would ask him why he hasn't explained that."

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