The Tour de France celebrates its centenary

Yes, of course you get to take pleasure in the Tour. Jean-René Bernaudeau, our director of sport, has a beautiful expression for the Tour de France. He says: “what is most difficult about the Tour de France, is not doing it, what is harder is not doing it”. So, no, the Tour that’s it, that is our reason for existence, it is doing the Tour de France and one take enormous pleasure in it, the riders also, even for them it is a terrible effort, they take enormous pleasure from it. It is for the pay-off for a year’s work, for us also, and it is obviously effectively the frenzy, the irritation and a terrible pressure for three weeks but it is also a fabulous adventure to live through.

Philippe Riambaud, managing director of the team “Brioches la Boulangère” one of the 22 teams which take part in the month of July in the Tour de France 2003.

Listen, without revealing our plans, because all that is secret of course. A part of a strategy is obviously not to shout it from the roofs, not to reveal it to our opponents, but we, in the whole, our objective is to place one or two riders in the first 20 in the general classification, while trying to ensure that they are rather in the first 10 than in the first 20. And then we would love to win one or several stages of course. So, that’s it!

These ambitions can seem to you modest perhaps. But, with the American Lance Armstrong in the pack, the other riders remain humble.

And then you must believe that the Tour de France in not only a fight for the yellow jersey of the winner. All the teams have to show their value to be selected for the next Tour. For the little teams, it is a constant battle for survival.

Stage victories are very honourable. That is not so evident:

Knowing that to win stages, it is necessary either to have a very quick sprinter – and we do not obviously have one in our ‘shop’ – or a very strong rider capable of beating Armstrong in the ‘time trials’, that, it is necessary not to dream too much, in the same way that in the mountains we do not have a climber capable of taking him on. So, where does that leave us? It leaves us some so called transition stages where you must lead the offences and be competitive trying to lead the ‘escapees’ and being the best of the riders who escape. That’s it.

For three weeks, some 198 cyclists are going to do battle on a course of 3350 kilometres spread out over 20 stages. From its start in 1903, the Tour de France established itself quickly as the big event of the summer sporting calendar. For the participants it is the result of a year of work:

From the sporting point of view, the Tour is not prepared in the last few weeks. It is prepared starting in the winter before, when the riders who have a notion of doing the Tour de France have a quite definite program to try so that their form is optimal at the time of the Tour de France.

The cycling season starts at the beginning of February and finishes in the middle of October, so generally the riders from 15th October till about the 8-10 November are more or less on vacation that is to say that generally they stop riding and they try rotating with other sports to change their ideas, and then afterwards from the month of November, we have the first preparation training courses which are preparation for the season, but just as much, they are the first stage of building the program for the riders aiming at being at the top at the time of the Tour de France.

The Tour is truly the principal axis of the season, the key moment of the season and for the riders, who we assume that they do not have physical problems, they do the Tour de France, all is a little bit based so that they are on their best form at that time, at the time of the month of July. And so, in the weeks which come before the Tour de France, there is an acceleration of this preparation with notably the discovery training course for some mountain stages and for some ‘time trials’. So, we have already done a preparation training course in the Pyrenees in the course of which the riders got to know the ‘time trials’ which there will be in that area over there and similarly the stages in the Pyrenees. And just before the championship of France, there will be the same thing for the Alps, knowing that the riders have similarly got to know the ‘time trials’ between Pornic and Nantes and similarly the sections of the ‘time trials’ for teams.

All of our activity, all of our thought, all of our plans are built to operate around the Tour de France.

No matter how you prepare, it is impossible to foresee everything.

No, stage by stage. For the moment, we are a little bit obliged to establish an integrated strategy for the three weeks, would it only be that we must choose a team for the Tour, and then the choice of men is a little bit like we can choose chess pieces before starting the game. Knowing if we need three castles or several queens or several bishops, that it is about the same. It is necessary to know if, in the selection of the team which we are going to put on the line, we will have a flowing style of behaviour or a fun style to use an expression a little as in football, which will not be the same in action as the actors which we have chosen. So, the first stage, this is it: define the objectives that we can attain knowing that reason makes us think that we do not definitely have the winner of the Tour in our midst and that on paper at least, afterwards the circumstances in the course can decide otherwise, but on paper we do not have the rider capable of taking on Armstrong. So it is necessary to define objectives which are possible and starting from there to build a team which is the best to respond to these objectives. So, already we have a global consideration of the Tour de France, the way in which we are going to start off, our objectives, effectively, there will be a business of cuts day by day, but which will take place a little on the spot because it is difficult today to know what is going to happen during the 17th stage as what is going to happen during the 17th stage will certainly be influenced by what has happened during the 16 days which will have gone before that day. So we cannot push the analysis too far today because it is obvious that the circumstances on the course and how things go, are going to ensure an outcome which will be for that moment which we cannot think of today of course. At the same time, today over the whole of the three weeks, it is necessary to try to imagine a little bit all the ways which things may turn out to try to be able to respond to them in any circumstance.

Cycling is a team sport. We have team leaders, the stars on whom the hopes of a stage victory or a good final place rest. The work of the others is to protect them, especially by placing themselves in front of the leaders to cut the air resistance. The leaders of the team Brioches Boulangère are…

Didier Rous and Sylvain Chavanel, yes. Yes, on the face of it, it is they who at the start will be what we call the protected riders, that is to say the riders who we do not ask to do some of the work in the pack because we know that, well, they are the riders who are going to do well in the mountains and who are going to do well in the time trials, so these are the principal qualities for being well place in the Tour de France; it is necessary not to lose too much time in the mountains and not to lose too much time in the time trials.

At 23 years of age, young for a cyclist, Chavanel is one of the big hopes of French cycling, which has not had a winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985. The expectations of the fans, who have such a thirst for a victory, are heavy to support and Philippe Riambaud takes care not to add to them.

We know that Sylvain Chavanel has great talent, that he has a great physical potential. What we do not know is if the potential is to be in the first 5 in the Tour, in the first 3 in the Tour or eventually one day to win the Tour de France. What we know however it that it would very surprising if Sylvain Chavanel won the Tour de France this year and not only because there is Armstrong but because, well, he is still young and we must let him have time. Not all riders are like Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault to win the Tour de France at this first go. Sylvain Chavanel must not forget that great riders like Louison Bobet or Bernard Thevenet won the Tour de France after several goes, after a sort of apprenticeship, and I think that this coming Tour will be yet a tour of apprenticeship for Sylvain Chavanel. He must demonstrate that he can suffer three weeks of competition at the highest level to resist the pressure and be in a physical state which allows him to be well placed in Paris.

Then, will he win the Tour de France on day? I do not know but we will know that perhaps more in 2004 or in 2005 than in 2003.

As the Vice President of the League of French Profession Cycling, Philippe Raimbaud is well placed to analyse the difficulties of the sport in France.

Personally, I think that there are two problems coming together here. The first is that effectively in the years 93 to 96, there was a crisis of sponsoring for the teams in France.

Was there a problem specifically for cycling? No, because at the time, there had not yet been the Festina business, and I think that there had been a dip which was perhaps linked also to the retirement of Fignon and of Hinault which meant that sponsors had the feeling that cycling was less interesting because there were no more great French champions. Perhaps that, then the global economic conditions, I think that that explained the dip.

That meant that there were no more than one or two French teams worthy of the name and that instead of having 20 riders among the professionals we could only have 2, 3 or 4. The wider the pyramid is at the base, the higher it is at the top. And there when this happens we missed at some time a mixing around of young French talent. The proof is that today in France you have two categories of riders: established riders Virenque, Brochard, Rous, who are more than 30 years old, and the after we drop to Casar, Chavanel, young riders who are less that 25 years old, and between 25 and 30, with the exception of two or three riders such as Moncoutie, there is a hole. There is verifiably a hole of a generation. This hole, it is necessary to look for it at the time when these riders were 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 years old, and when they had to go professional and when there was a whole generation of riders who were left to one side because there was no job market. That is the first reason. The second reason is added to that is the we lived the ?, that we can summarise by the years EPO, and that effectively in the years 95, 96, 97, 98 many teams submitted to the laws for big groups of foreigners and that these years EPO a little overwhelmed the hierarchy and a little upset the people like what it is doing to us, had worked only a little for long periods and went on training. That is to say, at that time it was no longer the trouble of training, it was enough to be ‘fed’, in quotes, and that was enough to get on, right?

I think that France suffered a bit more than other countries from this shortcoming and from the scourge in terms of preparation of training and of this long drawn out work. I think that it is probable that other countries won little by little from that. It seems to me that in Italy there is a real struggle at the moment against taking drugs, notably by the police and by the justice which means that there are arrests which are increasing in amateur circles in the midst of young people and that perhaps in its turn, Italy is going to know the dip because of this, or thanks to that, because what is important is that the people who cheat knowing that – I am not saying that the Italians have all been cheats, but apparently they are attacking this scourge also in Italy and it is a good thing and perhaps that the Italians like the French will have a dip in three or 4 years because they will have a big backlash from that.

The team Brioches la Boulangère has been grief stricken these last few weeks by the death of one of its young hopes, Fabrice Salanson, who died in his bed the day before the Tour of Germany. Inevitably, the first reaction of many people has been to ask themselves if his death could have been linked to the abuse of drugs. A mistaken reaction as the post-mortem has proved and as Philippe Riambaud underlines.

Listen! I am stopping you right away. If you, you were to die, I do not wish that on you, this evening in your bed, no-one would make that suggestion. Fabrice was a rider 100% clean. He proved it because he was always the first to make his body available from science, to lead the research as well in the general hospital at Nantes as for example for the research led by CNRS in Marseilles; secondly the German police opened an investigation. All the products which were taken from the hotel, the mineral salts or the vitamins which he could have in his case were examined, and evidently they found nothing reprehensible. These were all completely normal products. Secondly there was a post mortem on his body. There were two set of blood tests, urinary tests, hair tests then you know that it is in the analysis of hair that you can find in the long term if there was absorption of dope products. And they found nothing. So it is necessary to stop doing what we call in France ‘turning on the ignition’. There is nothing. I do not want that we dirty the memory of Fabrice Salanson. All the tests which were done were negative, and it is not necessary to mix this business which is not one of those from elsewhere, which is the dramatic death of a man as it happens every day not only in the homes of cyclists, homes of farm workers, homes of tradesmen, homes of bosses, homes of children, homes of sportsmen, homes of non sportsmen. It is not a business any more than in cycling. It is a drama but it has nothing to do with doping.

So, it is with a heavy heart that the members of the team put themselves on the starting line.

We, what’s more, we put human values and team spirit about everything else, what happens elsewhere that we have experienced very hard, what has happened to Fabrice because it is not an employee whom we have lost, it is not only a future champion, it is above all a brother, and the riders are very, very upset by what has just happened because it is truly a friend whom they have lost and well, oh well, what gives the advantage and the captivating side of this team, this brotherhood, this bond which it is possible to have been the riders, has made by this event what we feel even more painfully since it has happened. Let us hope that we will bounce back and that we bring back for Fabrice a strong sign by great victories and by good behaviour.

$Id: 2003_06_act.htm 35 2021-02-12 12:17:35Z alistair $

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