Article and photos by Pete Geyer.
Click photos for larger images.
"General De Gaulle runs France eleven of twelve months, in July it's Jacques
Goddet," wrote Antoine Blondin, longtime journalist for the French sports daily
l'Equipe. Thursday in Paris current Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc outlined
his plan for running France in July, 2005.
The announcement each October of the following July's Tour route is one of
the most anticipated moments in sports, particularly in France. For weeks prior,
there is much speculation, both by those within the sport and those who follow
it, about the path the next Tour will take. Tour organizers, ASO, have every
reason to keep the route secret as long as possible, at least until after
they've secured all the required hotel reservations for the teams, Tour
officials and other members of the caravan that will move along the route in
July. Once the Tour route has been revealed, there is a rush by journalists,
tour group operators and some individual fans to secure hotel reservations. Some
present at Thursday's announcement will have immediately begun efforts to
reserve required lodging.
Bernard Hinault and Jean-Marie Leblanc present Richard Virenque
with a framed photographic
collage commemorating his record 7 polka-dot jerseys. Photo © Pete Geyer.
Jean-Marie Leblanc, in front of a large reproduction of the 2005
Tour poster, speaks to the packed crowd at the Palais des Congrès. © Pete Geyer.
But the impact of the announcement of the Tour route goes well beyond the
world of professional cycling, the teams, media and fans who travel far to see
the Tour. Throughout France (and in part of Germany) beginning last Thursday,
the 2005 Tour is a topic of discussion (all the evening news programs displayed
the Tour route map) for many residents along the Tour route in particular,
serious fan or not. Fans will have looked at the announced route and immediately
started thinking of friends or family members along that route with whom they
could stay next July, whether or not such potential hosts are fans themselves.
Those lucky enough to learn that the Tour is coming to their town will plan to
be there for it. It's easy to get excited when you learn that Le Tour is coming
to town, your town.
With 15 million spectators on the roads in July (68% male, 32% female
according to ASO) and 96% "brand recognition" in France (who and where in France
are the other 4%?), the architect of the Tour route, Leblanc, indeed wields some
Tour watchers around the world, while in most cases not as directly impacted
by the route, will certainly have taken notice. Foreign spectators in Tour
mountain stages are estimated by ASO to be as high as 30%.
The crowd waiting to get into the auditorium for Thursday's presentation was
a mix of riders, team managers and sport directors, sponsors, local government
officials, media and others. Lance Armstrong was not in the house this year,
neither were Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov, who marched in the front
entrance together last year, re-united as teammates and projecting an image of
determination and expectation of great things to come in July, 2004 that was not
to be. But off to one side was Richard Virenque speaking with a French minister
and cycling fan, Nicholas Sarkozy, who was surrounded by secret service agents
who may or may not have been cycling fans. Also present were Ivan Basso,
Vladimir Karpets, Thomas Voeckler, David Moncoutie, Christophe Moreau and
others, mostly French riders. Former pro and current tour group leader Phil
Anderson was there, as were OLN's team of Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen and Bob
Once everyone was inside, seated and ready for the show, master of ceremonies
Daniel Mangeas, longtime speaker of the Tour, introduced ASO president Patrice
Clerc. Clerc's brief speech recalled the historic and other thrilling moments of
the 2004 Tour: Armstrong's record 6th win, Virenque's record 7th polka-dot
jersey, Voeckler's inspiring battle in yellow. But given several far less
glorious moments in the sport this season, it was no doubt inevitable that Clerc
would raise the issue of sports ethics: "Now more than ever, we must not
compromise our values of sport, ethics and fair play." He seemed to be sending a
message in light of recent disagreements between organizers of the Grand Tours
and the UCI, the sport's international governing body.
But ASO was mostly intent on reminding the audience what a beautiful sport
this is and it no doubt succeeded with an inspiring 10-minute video of Tour 2004
highlights. Lights out, first up on the screen appeared key moments from each of
Armstrong's six Tour victories, accompanied by music that suggested battle,
warriors and conquerors. On to the highlights of the 2004 Tour, the pace of the
music picked up, dominance was the theme, and the powerful USPS team was seen in
the team time trial, in slow motion, then Armstrong and Basso together on the
climbs, Armstrong triumphing and a thumbs up from Sheryl Crow in the team car.
More Armstrong stage wins, then finally Armstrong on the podium in Paris. The
video then included segments depicting all the stage winners triumphing, the
crashes (with appropriate "mishap music"), Voeckler's courageous fight to stay
in yellow (the music there was light, energetic, fresh), Virenque securing his
7th polka-dot jersey. In addition to the music, voice-over clips from Radio
Tour, team directors, and television broadcasters in several languages were
included. It was an impressive show and was heartily applauded by the audience.
French politician Philippe de Villiers presents the Vendée area
where the 2005 Tour will start. Photo © Pete Geyer.
Philippe de Villiers, representing the Vendée area of France where the 2005
Tour will begin, then showed a promotional video.
Jean-Marie Leblanc looks on while Philippe de Villiers speaks; Leblanc is about to present the Tour route for the last time. © Pete Geyer.
"President in July" Leblanc then presented the 2005 Tour route, what everyone
had come for. This was the last time Leblanc would design and present a Tour
route; that task will go to Christian Prudhomme starting in 2005 as he gradually
takes over the reins to the Tour.
Leblanc showed an impressive flyover of the route, then got down to the
details of the stages. That detail included mentioning the mayors of the Tour
stage towns. There was nothing that quite jumped out like the announcement last
year of the time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez but if one stage got the attention of
the audience, that would be stage 15 to Pla-d'Adet. Perhaps the surprises this
time will come in July, not in October?
Jean-Marie Leblanc shows an impressive flyover of the 2005 Tour route. Photo © Pete Geyer.
Vladimir Karpets, who earlier in the ceremony received a best
young Tour rider trophy, looks on as Jean-Marie Leblanc presents the details of the 2005 Tour route. Photo ©
Jean-Marie Leblanc announces the creation of the Prix Jacques
Goddet, a prize to recognize the
best article written during the most recent Tour. This year's winner is Yves
Perret of the
Dauphiné-Libéré newspaper. Photo © Pete Geyer.
From one "President in July" to another, Leblanc also announced the creation
of the Prix Jacques Goddet, a prize to recognize the best article written during
the most recent Tour. Leblanc then concluded and spent significant time
patiently posing for press photos while pointing here or there on the Tour map,
his last one.
Jean-Marie Leblanc and officials from Germany point to a German
stage on the 2005 Tour map. Photo © Pete Geyer.
Thomas Voeckler speaks to the media after the 2005 Tour
Photo © Pete Geyer.
A retiring Richard Virenque, surrounded by reporters, knows he
won't be riding the Tour route he sees projected on the large screen and said he was feeling nostalgic. Photo ©
Ivan Basso does a television interview. Photo © Pete Geyer.
OLN's Bob Roll interviews Ivan Basso. Photo © Pete Geyer.
OLN's Paul Sherwen interviews Jean-Marie Leblanc as a cameraman for l'Equipe TV looks on. Photo © Pete Geyer.