Paper claims CSC in, Mercury not
By VeloNews Interactive — Copyright AFP2001
A Danish newspaper claims to have the inside line on which teams will be given the four remaining Tour de France spots and Marco Pantani’s Mercatone Uno team and the American Mercury squad aren’t among them. Copenhagen’s daily Berlingske Tidende reported on Monday that CSC-WorldOnline, the team of France’s former world number one Laurent Jalabert, is going to get one of the four wildcard entries to this year’s Tour de France.
Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc will reveal the names of the four teams on May 2, but the newspaper reported that sources within the Tour said that the four are CSC, Italy’s Saeco, Euskaltel of Spain and the Belgian Lotto-Adecco team. Notably absent from the list are the U.S. Mercury-Viatel team and the team of 1998 Tour winner Pantani. If the paper’s claims are proven true, the decision would represent a major snub of a former Tour winner who is now almost constantly embroiled in controversy. The decision would also once again delay the prospect of seeing two American teams competing in the Tour de France. The other, of course, is the U.S. Postal team of two-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
Pantani’s career has sputtered since his expulsion from the 1999 Giro d’Italia, after officials found him to have an elevated red-blood-cell count. He was later charged and convicted of sporting fraud, a charge now used in Italy to prosecute users of performance-enhancing drugs.
Mercury had targeted the Tour as one of its major goals for 2001 as the team recruited its way into the UCI’s Division I with the signings of several major riders including former Giro d’Italia winner Pavel Tonkov. But this year’s decision by Tour organizers to open the race to a greater number of French teams — including several Division II teams — limited the number of available openings, leaving several strong teams vying for the four remaining wildcard spots.
CSC director Bjarne Riis, winner of the 1996 Tour de France, said that he is encouraged by the news, but said he was withholding further comment until the decision was formally announced.
Jalabert, nicknamed ‘Ja Ja’ and the world number one between 1995 and 2000, has been out of action since January when he injured his back after falling off a ladder while changing a lightbuld at his home.
The accident forced him into hospital for treatment on three fractured vertebrae, and the thought of a long lay-off, or even an untimely end to his career, was never far away.
“Laurent Jalabert will be in top form for the Tour. We all know Jalabert and when he is in form he’s strong and gets results,” said Riis.
Leblanc told the French wire service AFP that he had no doubts that if 32-year-old Jalabert was at the starting line he would have a good Tour.
Jalabert returned to competition in Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne and the Veenendaal-Veenendaal the following day. He also plans to take place in the Tour of Lower Saxony from April 25-29 in his preparation for this year’s Grand Boucle. With over 150 wins to his name Jalabert’s driving aim now is to win cycling’s premier event.
“I’m French and the Tour is a landmark event,” said Jalabert, fourth in the 1995 Tour.
Following Rik Verbrugghe’s win at Fleche Wallone, Leblanc also indicated that Lotto-Adecco “deserves to be in the Tour.”