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By Andrew Hood
French decry malaise
Recriminations are flying as French cycling officials grapple for a reason to explain France’s less-than-stellar presentation in the 92nd Tour de France.
David Moncoutie was the only French rider to win a stage and Christophe Moreau, 11th at 16:26 back, was the only French rider in the top 20, enough to make any Frenchman cry in his pastis.
In an interview published in L’Equipe, French cycling federation officials are decrying a variety of reasons for France’s dismal showing.
Excuses range from too many foreign riders, a different attitude about training and winning, to the “peloton at two speeds” argument that French cycling is cleaner because of stricter national health controls French riders are subject to.
In short, French cycling is in a malaise.
Jean Pitallier, president of the French cycling federation, pointed fingers just about everywhere to lay blame on why French riders aren’t performing better in the Tour.
“I saw French riders on the attack, they just didn’t win. That’s the problem,” Pitallier said in an interview. “I don’t want to speak about a peloton at two speeds, but that’s what it appears to be.”
Pitallier insisted other nations should adopt France’s stricter anti-doping controls, which subject all licensed professionals to quarterly health checks.
“I demand that other countries apply the same strict measures that we have,” he continued. “I’d also like to see the managers of the teams sanctioned. We have to sensitize the directors of the teams and suspend them if necessary. The climate of suspicion that reigns is too disagreeable for cycling, the sport that’s beyond a doubt the one with the most tests.”
When asked if French racers perhaps aren’t as professional or hard-working as other pros, Pitallier suggested that might be true among the younger generation of pros.
“One can speak of insufficient training,” he said. “Perhaps something can be said about the younger generation. Older riders like Brochard and Rous are experience and know how to train. The younger have a problem with the training.”
Moreau jumps ship
Christophe Moreau, the highest overall French finisher at this year’s Tour de France, announced on Friday that he will be riding for Ag2r next season.
Moreau, who finished the Tour in 11th place overall, has been on the open market since Crédit Agricole made it clear that his contract would not be renewed at the end of the season. Friday Moreau announced that he had signed a two-year contract with Ag2R, the French team directed by Vincent Lavenu.
The 34-year-old Moreau has been a member of Crédit Agricole since 2002, but his departure had been expected after his relationship with team director Roger Legeay had taken a serious turn for the worse in recent months. The two were reportedly not even on speaking terms through most of this year’s Tour. – Charles Pelkey, news editor
Di Luca back in action
ProTour series leader Danilo Di Luca will be back in action in this weekend’s HEW Cyclassics, his first major race since the Giro d’Italia.
Di Luca, appearing in post-Tour de France criteriums this week in Denmark and Germany, said he’s anxious to get back to racing.
“I haven’t competed in a race in two months,” Di Luca said. “The racers from the Tour will be the favorites. I’m well aware I won’t be able to be competitive in Hamburg, also because the route doesn’t suit me very well. I would like to score some points and regain the race legs again.”
The Liquigas-Bianchi captain is calling the second half of his already successful season “Operation: ProTour.”
The Italian holds a commanding lead in the ProTour standings with 184 points. The just-retired Lance Armstrong bounced into second following his seventh Tour victory with 139 points while Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) is third with 136 points.
Di Luca rightly sees if he can just be consistent in the race-heavy ProTour calendar through August and September, he’ll have a lock on the inaugural ProTour title.
The standings are loaded with GC riders, such as Armstrong, Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) and Tour podium finisher Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) crowding the top 10. Most of their important goals are done for the season, and in Armstrong’s case, for good.
Unless someone gets on a hot streak in the second half of the season, Di Luca could be wearing the ProTour leader’s jersey for remainder of the 2005 calendar.
“I’d like to be in peak condition at the middle of August and hold on to the Giro di Lombardia,” Di Luca said. “I’m aiming more at performing well constantly than capturing single wins to secure myself the final success in the ProTour.”
ProTour standings after Tour de France
1. Danilo Di Luca (Italy / Liquigas) 184 points
2. Lance Armstrong (United States / Discovery Channel) 139
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan / T-Mobile) 136
4. Tom Boonen (Belgium / Quick-Step) 120
5. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy / Fassa Bortolo) 111
6. Jan Ullrich (Germany / T-Mobile) 98
7. Santiago Botero (Colombia / Phonak) 95
8. Oscar Freire (Spain / Rabobank) 94
9. Paolo Savoldelli (Italy / Discovery Channel) 92
10. George Hincapie (United States / Discovery Channel) 89
11. Davide Rebellin (Italy / Gerolsteiner) 86
12. Ivan Basso (Italy / Team CSC) 86
13. Michael Boogerd (Netherlands / Rabobank) 80
14. Michael Rogers (Australia / Quick-Step) 80
15. Levi Leipheimer (United States / Gerolsteiner) 80
16. Bobby Julich (United States / Team CSC) 79
17. Jens Voigt (Germany / Team CSC) 73
18. Cadel Evans (Australia / Davitamon – Lotto) 73
19. Gilberto Simoni (Italy / Lampre – Caffita) 70
20. Alberto Contador (Spain / Liberty Seguros) 67
Boonen back, Quick Step on youth movement
Tom Boonen will be back in action this weekend for the HEW Cyclassics, the German one-day race that kick starts the final third of the ProTour racing calendar.
Boonen abandoned the Tour de France with injuries on the stage to Briancon while leading the green points jersey competition after winning two sprints in the first week.
Boonen, a winner at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix earlier this spring, will be joined by 2004 Olympic champion Paolo Bettini.
Like many teams, Quick Step-Innergetic is bolstering its lineup for the coming seasons. The Belgian team recently signed contracts through the 2006-07 seasons with Steven De Jongh, Kevin Van Impe and Matteo Tosatto.
The team also signed young riders Ivan Santaromita and Davide Viganò through the 2008 season while Kevin Keyrinck and Jasper Melis (Tom Boonen’s cousin) will ride as stagiaires.
In other team news, Luca Paolini won his first race since last year’s Brabantse Pijl when he took victory in Thursday’s third stage of the Tour de la Region Wallone.
“Up until (Thursday) this season has been really difficult for me. The problem I had with my knee spoiled the beginning of the season for me, but I didn’t give up hope of winning,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of hard working in getting myself back on form and today’s victory repays me for all of my efforts.” Quick Step for HEW Cyclassics
Kevin De Weert
Ullrich, Hincapie refuse to start criterium
Top riders such as George Hincapie and Jan Ullrich refused to start a criterium Wednesday in the Czech Republic after event organizers couldn’t meet financial obligations.
According to a report on T-Mobile’s web site, Hincapie, Ullrich and 16 other riders decided not to compete a scheduled 64km criterium in Prague’s Wenceslas Square when it was announced rider’s checks wouldn’t be doled out.
Riders learned of the problems about one hour before the start. Two hours of negotiations with event organizers failed to appease the riders’ demands to get paid and most of the big names didn’t take part.
The president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, never got his promised visit with the big stars and Czech television refused to broadcast the race when only local riders agreed to start.
Ullrich’s post-Tour criterium program continued Thursday in Austria and he’s scheduled to attend an event Friday in Hannover, Germany. On Sunday, he lines up for the HEW Cyclassics race.