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Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc has waded into the debate which, in the absence of any conspicuous home success, is dominating French media coverage of the Tour in France.
Reacting to inferences by French riders and team managers that they are being penalised at the Tour by their intolerant attitude towards doping, Leblanc told Le Monde on Sunday that "French ought to start by preparing for the Tour like [Lance] Armstrong and [Jan] Ullrich.
"Maybe [the lack of success] is the French directeur sportifs' or their old methods' fault," Leblanc added.
Judging by Sunday's newspapers - with both Le Monde and Le Journal du Dimanche (LJD) canvassing new opinion on what has become one of the race's hot topics - David Moncouti's stage victory in Digne Les Bains on Thursday has done nothing to halt talk of a Tour deux vitesses.
The sole French winner so far in this year's Grande Boucle, Moncouti has made no explicit references to doping but advised the public to "draw their own conclusions" about the giddying average speeds which on many stages have proved too much for the home riders. Another of the few internationally-esteemed French riders, Jrme Pineau, said earlier this week that he "would have to water down my ambitions if cycling continues like this".
Pineau's message didn't need subtitles, and neither did Leblanc need a translator. As the Tour chief clearly indicated in Le Monde today.
"I don't spend my time in riders' hotel rooms or in doctors' surgeries," Leblanc said. "There were 30 French riders out of total of 189 at the start of the Tour but France no longer has a Jalabert or a Fignon.
"We have to acknowledge that there have been some unsavoury incidents in Spain and Italy in recent times, but the same applies to France. Do I have to cite Philippe Gaumont? I refuse to accept people dichotomising and saying that there's this line separating foreign riders who don't care about the rules and French riders who respect them."
Leblanc's belief that at least a partial explanation for French cycling's current malaise lies elsewhere is shared by Phonak boss John Lelangue. Formerly Leblanc's colleague at Tour organisers ASO, Lelangue pointed out today that French riders race more than their foreign counterparts, which could put them at a disadvantage. While Leblanc singled out the former enfant prodige Sylvain Chavanel for "advice" ("maybe if he came to the Tour weighing two or three kilos less, he could compete with Armstrong"), Lelangue suggested that Chavanel and Pineau had been overburdened with expectation and hype. "Chavanel was a future Hinault, Pineau a great Classics rider on the strength of a third-place in the Championship of Zurich." Lelangue remarked to LJD.
Speaking to procycling early in the Tour, CSC rider Bobby Julich advanced a different theory on the basis of his experience at Cofidis and Crdit Agricole. "At Crdit Agricole, they hated any question beginning with the word 'Why?'," Julich commented. "I would ask people in the team why they did certain things and they would just tell me 'because we've been doing it like that for 20 years'. If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting."
What France is currently getting may satisfy its riders but, with just two men in the top 30 on general classification (Christophe Moreau in 10th and Sandy Casar in 21st), the French public and press are now clamouring for answers. "Hypocrisy, excuses and the unsaid - an indecipherable puzzle," tutted LJD, under a headline paying muted tribute to Moncouti's stage win on Bastille Day: "It's not July 14 every day!"
Leblanc wades into doping debateClose
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