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Leblanc announces final Tour picks

World road race champion Mario Cipollini's team has been ruled out of this year's Centenary Tour de France. Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc announced the last four teams for this year's race which starts July 5 but overlooked Cipollini's Domina Vacanze team. "Cipollini hasn't had a very convincing start to the season despite the fact he won a stage in the Giro yesterday," Leblanc said Monday, noting that it had been "very difficult" to make the final choice. “At the age of 36 we felt he doesn't fit into the profile of the race which after a week of racing on the flat will head into the

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Cipollini again overlooked

By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright AFP2003

World road race champion Mario Cipollini’s team has been ruled out of this year’s Centenary Tour de France.

Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc announced the last four teams for this year’s race which starts July 5 but overlooked Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze team.

“Cipollini hasn’t had a very convincing start to the season despite the fact he won a stage in the Giro yesterday,” Leblanc said Monday, noting that it had been “very difficult” to make the final choice.

“At the age of 36 we felt he doesn’t fit into the profile of the race which after a week of racing on the flat will head into the mountains.”

Cipollini, the sport’s biggest showman, has never been keen on mountain stages and has never completed a Tour de France, although the formidable sprinter is usually in contention in the mass finishes that dominate the first week of racing.

“On the centenary of the Tour we also wanted to give a little boost to French cycling,” Leblanc added, noting that there would be around 35-40 home riders out of the 198 at the start line in Paris.

“We’re taking about a dictator,” Cipollini said when told of the news at Arezzo in Italy. “How can you leave out a world champion? The Tour is about riders, not about teams and I think I deserve a place.”

He did not rule out making an appeal to the UCI.

“I don’t know if the UCI can intervene, I’ll have to see,” he added.

Fellow Italian Marco Pantani was also omitted but his Mercatone Uno team were never likely to be included because of their low ranking.

Lithuanian Raimundas Rumsas, third last year, is another absentee.

Organizers did not pick his Lampre team after his wife was arrested after last year’s race when police found performance-enhancing drugs in her car.

French teams Brioches La Boulangere, AG2R and Jean Delatour plus Spanish outfit Euskaltel were given wild cards Monday to make up a field of 21 teams.

For this year’s centenary edition only, organizers have invited 22 teams of nine riders and it is widely expected that a new outfit led by bike manufacturers Bianchi and formed around former Tour winner Jan Ullrich will be invited following the suspension of Team Coast, who had held a place since the end of last year.

However for Cipollini, the winner of 12 stages on the world’s biggest bike race, it could speed up the end of his long career.

The veteran sprinter’s Acqua e Sapone team were not invited to the Tour last year, prompting him to announce his retirement.

In an about turn ‘Super Mario’ swallowed his pride and came roaring back to win the world road crown in Zolder, Belgium, in October.

But since winning the rainbow jersey Cipollini has not been at the forefront this season.

He won the eighth stage of the Tour of Italy on Sunday to claim a record-matching 41st stage victory in the race but that alone was never going to be enough to convince the Tour’s eight-man panel which decided in the space of 90 minutes on Monday morning.

Leblanc, explaining Domina Vacanze’s non-invitation, reminded journalists that the Tour is not simply a spectacle.

“We have to remember that the Tour is first and foremost a competition, and so we also have to consider less well-known riders who are going to compete over the three weeks,” he said.

That was one of the reasons that outsiders Euskaltel, and to a lesser extent Jean Delatour, were given the nod.

“Euskaltel have a few good climbers and although they had a slow start to the season, they’ve shown recently that they’re worth their place,” added Leblanc referring to Iban Mayo’s three stages and overall victory on the Tour of the Basque country.

“That’s not an easy race to compete in never mind win, so that was one reason why we chose them.”

While Brioches La Boulangere and AG2R were largely expected to be invited, the choice of Jean Delatour over Swiss team Phonak and Domina Vacanze was one which came mainly from the heart.

“On paper, Jean Delatour are a modest team, that’s true,” added Leblanc.

“But we made our decisions based on past participations, the potential for teams to liven up the race and the competitiveness of the riders. “Patrice Halgand won a stage last year (at Pau), so that was also a consideration.”

A decision on whether Bianchi, and Jan Ullrich, will be invited will follow a decision in the coming weeks by the International Cycling Union on the team’s finances.

Ullrich, recalled Leblanc, is a big draw on the Tour as he is likely to spice things up going head to head with Lance Armstrong.

The U.S. Postal team leader is aiming for a record-matching fifth consecutive Tour victory this year. Spaniard Miguel Indurain is the only rider to have done so.Here is the final list of teams invited to the 2003 Tour de France, (July 5-27), following final four invitations issued Monday
France Cofidis, Fdjeux.com, Credit Agricole, AG2R, Jean Delatour, Brioches La Boulangere
Italy Fassa Bortolo, Alessio, Saeco, Vini Caldirola
Spain Kelme, Ibanesto.com, ONCE, Euskaltel
Germany Telekom, Gerolsteiner
*Team Coast (*currently suspended, place to possibly be taken by Bianchi)
Belgium Lotto, Quick Step
Denmark CSC
Netherlands Rabobank

United States U.S. Postal

Copyright AFP2003



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