onsdag 24 juni 2009

Why Don't the French Triumph in Their Tour?

Here’s another certainty besides death and taxes: No Frenchman will win the Tour de France this year or come even close.Or so says the latest skeptic, the French sports daily l’Équipe, which admitted last week that “except in special circumstances, which perhaps they have the capacity to exploit, no French riders right now can imagine being high in the overall rankings” when the Tour finishes in Paris on July 26. Coming from l’Équipe, this is strong stuff. The newspaper’s circulation, usually about 350,000, can zoom by at least a third if a Frenchman appears to be challenging for the yellow jersey. Additionally, the paper is owned by the same people, the Amaury Sport Organization, that owns the Tour, so naysayers are not common in its pages. But l’Équipe’s reporters are both honest and realistic. Casting a general look at some of the 30-plus Frenchmen who will be part of the 180-man pack when the Tour starts July 4 in Monaco, the paper found only a few capable of winning at best a daily stage. It nominated only a single rider who might win one of the race’s four competitive jerseys, that for the top climber.
Even more dubious is Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to finish first in the Tour. He did it in 1985, then came in second in 1986, as did Laurent Fignon in 1989.
Since then, no Frenchman has come closer to winning his country’s greatest bicycle race than Richard Virenque — coked to the gills by his own tearful admission in court — who finished second in 1997 and third in 1996. This record infuriates Hinault, now 54 years old and forever outspoken. Quoted this month in the newspaper Le Parisien, the Badger was scathing in his view of French riders.
“There are champions who become like civil servants when they turn pro,” he said. “You have to put a knife to their throats to get any results. The French earn too much money and don’t make enough effort.”
“The French don’t train,” he continued, repeating a criticism by many others. “Nobody taps them in the mouth to get them going. It’s necessary to block their salary and later hand them back the money if they win something.”
He then turned to two theses often used to justify French performance: The Tour is too demanding and the French do not use illegal performance-enhancing drugs, unlike riders from many other countries.
“The Tour is not too hard,” Hinault insisted. “It is necessary to stop complaining. Cycling is a hard profession, but it’s better than going to the factory. If you really want to win, you fight until your last breath.”
As for doping, he added, “The French have taken as much as the others.” Fabien Cancellara, a Swiss, won the Tour of Switzerland on Sunday. Italians win the Giro d’Italia, Spaniards win the Vuelta a España. Riders from Luxembourg, Denmark and Germany win their national races. What is the French problem in the Tour? Partly it is a lack of talent. No French riders are in the top 20 based on performance this year and they consistently fail in major races at home and abroad. Their best young riders are unimpressive. The explanation that the French race clean was dismantled in the big Cofidis scandal of 2004, which involved extensive doping by the French team. A major part of the explanation seems to be attitude. The French shrug off their mediocrity and tend to set their goals low. In the judgment of many critics, they rarely respond to challenges.
Just before the Dauphiné Libéré weeklong race this month, the Cofidis sponsor unexpectedly announced that it would continue to fund the team next year rather than withdraw as planned. Reprieved, the team yawned. The riders had just spent a hard week training for the Tour, explained their manager, Eric Boyer, and so “don’t expect too much from them” in the Dauphiné. In that major French race, the highest Cofidis rider, David Moncoutié, won a mountain stage but ended a humble 11th and his next-closest teammate was 28th. In 2002, Sandy Casar, then 23, finished second in Paris-Nice and was acclaimed as a coming French star. After a few lackluster years, he was reacclaimed when he finished sixth in the 2006 Giro d’Italia.
His overall record shows five victories, one in a stage of the 2007 Tour and one in the minor Route du Sud. Last year, he was the top Frenchman in the Tour, clocking in at 14th place. The public is paying attention. In a poll by l’Équipe of fans last weekend, only two cyclists figured among the top 40 favorite athletes.

By SAMUEL ABT Photo: Bernard Hinault

RI Note: Årets Tour de France startar lördagen den 4 juli i MC. Hörde precis att Armstrong börjar finna formen efter en strålande seger i Nevada City Classic. Detta var första gången på 19 år som han körde tävlingen. Samt att president Sarkozy själv utmanat Lance då det är på tiden att en fransman vinner. Enligt källor "har Armstrong, inte en chans!" Ja, vi får väl se. Det finns nog ett antal grabbar och stall som har den vinsten in tankarna!

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