By Andrew Hood
Tour de France chief Jean-Marie Leblanc admits it is only a matter of time before Australia’s ever-improving cycling contingent can finally produce a Tour winner.
“I never say this or that guy is going to win the Tour, but a rider like Michael Rogers, who is young, who knows how to climb, who is good in the time trial and who is in a Quick Step team which is very professional and focused has a great chance,” Leblanc told AFP. “He’s got everything needed to do it, and he knows what’s required of him. In two or three years he can get on the podium in Paris. I’m almost certain of that.”
Leblanc, who is in Australia for the Tour Down Under for the first time in its seven-year history, said he has been hugely impressed by the “pioneering spirit” of the Australians which has seen a number of professionals establish themselves with top European teams over the past 15 years.
“I certainly don’t think Australian cyclists have anything to teach the French or other European riders in tactical terms, but they have such a combative spirit that doesn’t always exist in Europe,” he told AFP. “It’s almost the same in the countries who are relatively new to cycling. In Europe, we’ve been used to decades of cycling and maybe that’s softened us a bit. It’s like we’ve been in the comfort zone too long.”
— By AFP
Leblanc confirms he’s retiring
In the same interview with AFP, Leblanc confirmed he will retire in 2006. Leblanc said he will have a reduced schedule this year, skipping races such as Paris-Nice while heir apparent Christian Prudhomme will assume more responsibilities.
Lelangue hopeful for Phonak wild card
While Leblanc talked retirement, former Tour de France official John Lelangue is hopeful his Phonak team will earn one of two wildcard bids to race the 2005 Tour.
Lelangue, who was once hailed as a possible successor to Leblanc, left the Tour organization this month to take over as team manager at the troubled Phonak team. In an interview with the Spanish daily AS, Lelangue said the team is working to improve its image after a string of doping scandals.
“We have to work to recover the trust of the UCI, the race organizers, the fans and the press. I am not going to talk about what happened last year. I am not going to be a judge,” he said. “We are opening a new chapter and it’s going to cost us to recover the credibility, but I believe we can do it.”
Lelangue said the team will live by the ProTour ethics code, despite losing its spot among the new 19-team super league. He said the team is working with German doctor Thomas Klimaschka and has contracted a German lab to independently monitor its riders to avoid doping scandals. The team has also required riders to sign a document that forces them to disclose medical treatments with outside trainers and doctors, and risk losing their job if there’s a problem.
“It’s sure that zero risk doesn’t exist, but it’s clear that we cannot permit an error with doping,” he continued.
Lelangue said the team is following the example set last year by Cofidis, which was also beset with an in-house doping scandal. The French team fired most of the top staff and clamped down on controls of its riders, something Phonak has followed suit.
The team is hopeful of earning a spot in the three major tours as well as major classics, and Lelangue said the team has asked race organizers to consider the changes that have been implemented. The Tour is expected to announce two wild-card teams on Jan. 31.
If successful, Lelangue is hopeful the team can enter the ProTour for the 2006 season.
“Phonak is one of the best teams in the world and it should be in the ProTour. The league was supposed to have 20 teams, now it has 19. There was a place for Phonak that remains vacant and it should be ours if we’re worthy,” he said.
Cioni eyes Giro
Fourth in last year’s Giro d’Italia, former mountain biker Dario Cioni is once again eyeing the Italian grand tour as his major goal of the season. Cioni switched from Fassa Bortolo to Liquigas, where he will co-captain the team with former Giro champion Stefano Garzelli.
Liquigas will have its official team presentation later this month before the racers disperse to the season’s first events. Cioni is scheduled to race in Italy in February before racing in Setmana Catalana and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in April, the Giro di Trentino and the Giro di Romandie before the Giro in May, the team reported.