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Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc has revealed that the race organisation is considering whether to stop having summit finishes in the Pyrenees at weekends to avoid future problems with Basque fans because of "an excess of enthusiasm". Last weekend a Spanish TV truck came under attack from stone-throwing Basque fans, while another fan running alongside riders on one climb fell under the wheels of a TV motorbike.
"We regret the incidents that took place, and they have made us think that it might be better to make sure that the Pyrenean summit finishes don't take place on weekends in order to avoid overcrowding," Leblanc said in a Saturday morning press conference. "With fewer people there would be less pressure."
Asked whether the problem was seen as just peculiar to the Pyrenees and particularly to Basque fans, Leblanc responded: "In the Alps there are lots of Belgian, German and Italian fans and I've not noticed any problem. It's just a question of excessive enthusiasm among Basque fans. Euskaltel is like a Basque team and that unleashes excessive enthusiasm; we have to channel that."
Leblanc's comments illustrate how much the Tour has become a victim of its own success. The race organisers made clear at the start of the race that there would never again be a stage finish on the famous Puy de Dome climb near St Etienne because it could not accommodate the race's infrastructure. Some stage finishes in the Pyrenees now seem in danger of going the same way.
Leblanc did stress that there was no danger of summit finishes being done away with. "The Tour is getting ever bigger, but the most important factor is always the sporting side," he said, pointing out the race organisers would look at other options to avoid overcrowding and traffic chaos, such as the increased use of ski lifts where available.
Leblanc also denied reported comments about him being bored with Lance Armstrong's recent dominance of the Tour. "His dominance is not boring. This year he took a grip on the Tour in the first time trial, but since then he hasn't won a stage and there have been lots of escapes. it's been entertaining. The Merckx, Hinault and Indurain eras bored me more because they were more dominant," said Leblanc.
The Tour boss also said that he felt Jan Ullrich would only have one more chance to win the Tour because a new generation of Tour riders is emerging. "He only has the next edition, because then the Cunegos and Valverdes will take over," declared Leblanc, who added that Ivan Basso would also be a contender next year.
As far as the race's average speed, which should reach a record level this year, Leblanc described it as "normal because the technology and the preparation of the riders improves".
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