The Tour De France is becoming the Tour of the French after two of the remaining Wildcard positions were given to French teams. Big Mat and La Francaise des Jeux were chosen ahead of teams such as Saeco, Mercury Viatel and Mercatone Uno.
The underlying reason is that French cycling is going through a massive lull, with very little success over this or previous seasons, so it looks like Tour organiser Leblanc has gone for Gallic quantity over quality. Two French teams join the other 6 French teams already selected even though the likes of Mercury Viatel have had far better early season results.
An understandably dissapointed John Wordin of Mercury Viatel commented “It’s their race, they should do what they want, you have to respect their decision. But at the same time the race takes on a certain ‘globalness’ and by not having the best teams in the race, it’s not in the best interests of the sport,” “The selection was all about politics, and not about the quality of the teams.”
Marco Pantani was typically more vocal on hearing his Mercatone Uno squad was not chosen. “My exclusion and that of Mario Cipollini represent the death of the Tour,” said Pantani. “It’s incredible to think we’ve been excluded”……… “There are no stars on the starting list – the public and the fans want to see a spectacle, not a business.”
Not sure what Ullrich and Armstrong would make of Pantani’s claim that he and Cippolini were the only stars, but it’ll definitely be a less colourful and controversial tour without the two hot headed and often high speed Italians.
For a full Tour team listing see Cyclingnews.com