|Forget about the rest, La France est toujours the best. A phrase that, more or less, summarizes the logic behind Jean Marie Leblanc's choice of the last 4 teams invited to take part in the next Tour de France. It was the same thing in the past, and it was the same this morning too, when the name of the lucky teams awarded the coveted invitations for the 2003 "Grande Boucle were finally announced.
And once again, choices made by the Tour boss are likely to become a big topic of discussion.
One of them in particular: the (third straight) exclusion of Mario Cipollini and his team. Many were persuaded that the quarrel between Monsieur Leblanc and the Tuscan sprinter was over at last, and factors such as Super Mario's recent (and not so recent) accomplishments, plus the fact the Italian finally sounded well-intentioned to finish the race and cross the line on the Champs, could help the guy leave the past behind.
But facts proved them wrong: to the surprise (?) of some, France's raison d'etat won again, and the Tour boss decisions were in red, white and blue colors: 3 invited teams out of 4 come from the host country (Brioches La Boulangere, AG2R Prevoyance and Jean Delatour will make the Tour even more "de France"), and the only squad outside the "Hexagon" that managed to get a wild-card was super-combative Euskaltel-Euskadi, the all-Basque team whose riders had a an excellent spring campaign, with Iban Mayo back in the same winning form he showed two years ago, when the man first burst into spotlight. No mention of Cipo's (and Lombardi's and Scarponi's, and Colombo's, and Martin Perdiguero's, just to mention other rider that have done well so far this season) Domina Vacanze-Elitron instead.
So, once again Mario Cipollini will have to watch the race on Tv, while tanning on a Versilian beach. Definitely a big blow to the reigninig World Champion and his many fans, that hardly expected Monsieur Le Tour Leblanc to welcome yesterday's show from Cipo at the Giro (when the World Champion left all of his younger rivals behind and added a new gem to his palmares by equalling Alfredo Binda's record of stage wins in the Tour of Italy), in such a way.
And the Lion King did not welcome the choice of Tour boss either: words like "dictatorship" and "injustice" coming out from Super Mario's mouth were heard late in the morning, after the man in rainbow colors was told about Leblanc's decision. And more and more comments and reactions are expected to come in the near future. The "Daily Peloton" will keep you informed.
As for the rest, also Switzerland's Phonak Hearing Systems team and Pantani's Mercatone Uno were sidelined, while there's still a chance for Jan Ullrich to be at the "Grande Boucle" startline on July the 5th. Much will depend upon Team Coast's future. Will the German squad be definitively banned by the UCI ? In this case, no chances for the German. Will the team keep racing, perhaps as "Bianchi" ? Or will Ullrich sign for a different squad ? Then he'll be able to challenge Armstrong again.
Time will tell, anyway; the 1997 Tour Champion still has to wait to know whether he needs to buy tanning oil for July or not. Mario Cipollini already knows instead.