By VeloNews Interactive, AFP
Tour de France boss Jean-Marie Leblanc has committed himself to the world’s biggest bicycle race by vowing to remain in charge beyond 2004 when his current contract runs out.
Leblanc, who has guided the tour’s fortunes since 1988, was invited to stay on by Patrice Clerc, the president of the organizing body of the competition (ASO) and he says he has agreed.
Turning to the tour’s future, Leblanc said that he was always on the look out for new ideas, but that he saw little that could be changed.
“We are competing against other events on the one hand and against ourselves on the other. But you can never do too much to improve a competition,” he said.
The 59-year-old is also concerned about participation in what is the ultimate in world cycling admitting that the organizers must work hard to attract cyclists over the next 20 years.
Leblanc however believes the tour continues to improve and is no longer “old-fashioned.”
“It has transformed itself from an adventure to a real competition that hasn’t stopped progressing since World War II,” he said.
Television rights which have generated interest in the race are partly responsible for its success, he said..
“Buying the rights to the competition has brought financial resources which cycling needs more than any other sport since the public can’t be charged to watch,” he said.
Leblanc also had praise for American Lance Armstrong who he believes can equal Spaniard Miguel Indurain’s record of five consecutive wins this year.
“What I admire the most is his character and his perpetual search for professionalism,” Leblanc observed. “I didn’t think he could do it the first year in 1999, but I was convinced shortly afterwards.”
Leblanc has been a long-term enthusiast of the Tour by participating in the contest in 1968 and 1970 and by covering it as a journalist for Radio-Tour.Copyright AFP2003