The Director of the Tour de France, Jean-Marie Leblanc, has come up with a simple, yet ingenious formula for success that he feels may propel Lance Armstrong to the top of the popularity charts at the 2000 Tour de France. Or at least get him a mention.
What can he be referring to? Surely the Texan titan of cycling doesn’t need any help, as he sets about conquering the Tour de France for the second year running.
Not entirely the case, it appears. Despite his total domination on the road and his self-appointed role of “le patron” of the peloton (it doesn’t matter how much he denies it, you better believe he’s the boss and the hypnotised peloton knows it), he has failed to win the hearts of the French people, not to mention the home press.
The often taciturn, other times playful, American, is well-known for his dislike of the French media after claiming that they unfairly slated him before, during and after last year’s race. Feeling that he was badly burned in 1999, he now refuses to grant them the pleasure of his company for an interview.
However, this long running feud poses certain problems when it comes to the post stage press conferences that the man in yellow is obliged to attend. You see, Lance doesn’t like to speak the native tongue. Oh, the horror!
In fact, the watching Gallic millions will be lucky to hear him utter a few words of the most basic tourist French when they tune in to get their daily fix of the race. Now, this refusal to speak the language, it seems, is more than a leetle bit of an insult to them. You see, if you didn’t know already, it’s their race.
And it’s gonna take more than a sprinkling of “Franglais” here and there to quieten the murmuring of discontent currently circulating about the man from across the water who is about to run away with their pride and joy once more.
So, what cunning solution to raise his stocks among the French faithful does the Tour’s big chief have up his sleeve for the Texan. Well, it’s not up his sleeve anymore and it’s so simple that the only surprise is that no-one’s thought of it yet, least of all the US Postal team’s public relations department:
“If he tried to speak French,” Leblanc announced yesterday “I’m sure that he would gain more popularity.”
So there you have it, in a nutshell. Learn the language Lance or be forever damned to ruffling the feathers of the locals. Yeah, like that’s really gonna bother you, eh?
However, and not for the first time, it’s advantage Greg Lemond, the American who “parlez vous-ed” his way to three Tour titles in 1986, ’89 and ’90.