CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
TdF Intro 2008 “Les Follies du Tour”
“In France , they have lost all reasonableness, the UCI has become a powerless body and the teams don't dare oppose the Tour organisers.” This quote made by Johann Bruyneel during this year's Dauphiné Libéré neatly sums up the dictatorial arrogance that has become the hallmark of the modern Tour.
It's not all black and white. Le Tour is a complex affair. [ Images ©: Graham Jones CyclingRevealed.com ]
For the first three decades of the Tour its founder, Henri Desgrange, ruled the race with an iron fist in true Napoleonic fashion. He was the supreme race dictator often using what were described as Draconian measures to ensure that everything ran exactly as he wished.
After serious health problems removed Desgrange from his beloved Tour in 1936, Jacques Goddet assumed the mantle of race director. While Goddet was perhaps not at the Desgrange level of autocratic rule, he did maintain the dictatorial spirit which has to this day been the underlying character of the Tour management style.
The current impasse between the ASO and the UCI has its roots back in the recent past when Jean Marie Leblanc (Tour director 1989 - 2005) battled with Hein Verbruggen (UCI director 1991 - 2005). Their love/hate relationship has reached new heights with the new Tour Director (Christian Prudhomme) and the new UCI director (Pat McQuaid) effectively parting ways.
This year the Tour will run outside of the jurisdiction of the world ruling body for cycling. The UCI has declared the Tour “illegal” and that it will sanction both the ASO and any teams/riders participating in the race. This mirrors the situation back in March when the ASO broke ties with the UCI and ran the Paris-Nice with the French cycling union acting as the guiding body for race rules and drug controls. Up until the present day the UCI's Paris-Nice threats have proven to be not much more than hollow declarations.
Like it or not Le Tour is the greatest and most famous bike race in the world. Its owners, the ASO, run the franchise in the manner of any modern well structured corporation with profit as its number one objective. Effectively the ASO treats France like its own private stadium. Their control of the Tour brand reaches out to surprising levels. Protecting the Tour logo, route maps and access to the inner sanctum of daily Tour start and finish areas is understandable. However the ASO will prosecute cycle touring companies claiming to be official Tour guides. In other words if you decide to create a for-profit tour to follow the Tour you need to pay the ASO for permission.
Fully understanding the nature of their ‘prize product' (Le Tour), the ASO demands full independence in the way it runs the race. Not surprisingly some of their strategies run counter to UCI rules. One of the biggest is that the ASO says that it is their race and they will invite whomever they wish to participate. The UCI says that they must invite all Pro Tour teams. This is why Astana (along with several other teams) find themselves locked out of this years Tour.
For the fans it is a sad situation that last year's winner, Alberto Contador, will not be allowed to defend his crown. As he proved at this years Giro he is a great Grand Tour champion and the Tour will be poorer for not having him and the Astana team line up at the start in Brest . But whatever turmoil surrounds the management and implementation of the Tour, the ASO knows that the world will be tuning in. While many of us will rue the absence of Contador and his Astana team, the plain fact is that Tours come in three flavors - great, greater and greatest - regardless of who rides.
Perhaps one redeeming factor in the ASO/UCI battle is that both parties agree in principle on the issue of drugs. Unfortunately the UCI's ‘blood passport' system will not be used at the Tour, but for its part the Tour is taking its own stand against drugs with tests and other measures. An interesting feature is that every rider must sign a pre-race contract that stipulates a 100,000 Euro fine if that rider returns a positive drug test during the race.
Mainly because of the UCI's efforts, many believe that we have witnessed ‘clean' racing all year. Certainly, race after race has been exciting, often unpredictable and no longer dictated by all powerful teams. There is every reason to believe that the Tour is going to maintain this approach.
This year the race starts on July 5th in Brest and then takes an anti-clockwise loop with the Pyrenees coming before the Alps . For the first time in many years there will be no Prologue Time Trial as Stage 1 will be a ‘regular' road race.
CyclingRevealed will be reporting every single stage and as is always the case with every great race, the politics and power struggles will take back stage as we watch the real stars of the show battle for Tour honors.
To say that the Tour has a colourful history is a huge understatement. In time the current war between the ASO and the UCI will be racked up as another performance of “Les follies du Tour” .
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