French cycling doesn’t carry much weight in the World, says FFC President
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Monday, November 29, 2010

French cycling doesn’t carry much weight in the World, says FFC President

by Ben Atkins at 5:17 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Doping
 
Also claims that Tour de France organisers don’t put enough back into the sport in the country

thomas voecklerDavid Lappartient, the President of the French Cycling Federation (FFC) currently finds himself in an unusual situation. On the one hand his federation is enjoying record levels of membership, but on the other there will only be one French ProTeam next year, the country’s lowest ever representation at the top table of the sport. In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Lappartient explained what he sees as the root of the problem; and also why he chose to boycott the presentation of the 2011 Tour de France last month.

“We have opened discussions with ASO [the Amaury Sport Organisation, organiser of the Tour – ed] in order that this organisation will contribute its fair share of the insurance contracts of the federation,” he explained. “Currently this is not the case. We started talking in October 2009 and since then it has dragged, so rather than smile in the photo of the presentation of the Tour de France, I preferred not to go.

“It’s a basic problem because it’s the cycling enthusiast that ends up paying the insurance for the Tour de France,” he said

“I’m hopeful that the lines are moving,” he continued, “but we cannot accept that amateur cycling plays that role. It’s an old problem, but the figures are becoming increasingly alarming.”

According to Lappartient, French cycling now has two very different levels, creating a gap between the very top level and the rest.

“There are two categories in professional cycling,” he explained, “ASO and the other organisers, who are almost part of amateur cycling; they are all volunteers. ASO is very professional and it strengthens its position with the organisation of the [Criterium du] Dauphine and most major French races; the gap is widening.

“It’s upside down,” he said, “pro cycling should be helping the development of amateur cycling; the Tour needs to develop its future champions. No French rider has won the Tour in 25 years, we’ve never experienced such a famine!”

“Since the financiers took power some subjects are no longer a priority,” he added. “We need more solidarity between the different families of cycling.”

The problem for cycling in France is brought into stark contrast by the list of 18 ProTeams issued by the International Cycling Union (UCI) thi month. Only one name on the list, that of AG2R-La Mondiale, is French with FDJ having lost its first division status due to a lack of results and Cofidis failing in its attempt to rejoin as it lacks a true captain.

“French cycling is alive, there a lot of teams and the world of racing is really encouraging,” said Lappartient. “We have 109,334 licencees this year, a record, but internationally that does not weigh very much.

“France is the 14th nation in the World for men’s road cycling,” he conceded, “we are behind Luxembourg…”

“Many things can explain these differences,” he explained, “already doping has played against the French, who have made ethical efforts that other countries may not always have done.”

For many years, French riders have complained of “cyclisme a deux vitesses”, cycling at two speeds, after French laws brought in after the Festina affair of 1998 are seen to be much tougher on doping than in other countries. The fact that French riders are apparently cleaner than others does not entirely explain their lack of success, though.

“It costs 30-40% more for a team at the same level than it does abroad,” he explained, “because payroll taxes are heavy. We are one of the last countries where the riders are actually employees of their teams, in other countries they are self-employed.”

As well as the teams themselves, Lappartient conceded that it ay also be the structure and attitude of the French racing calendar that holds many riders back.

“Sometimes there is too much of a ‘Franco-Francaise’ approach,” he admitted. “Our riders want to do the Tour de France and shine at the national races, more than go and seek results in the big races of the international calendar.

“The French may lack ambition,” he added, echoing the sentiments expressed by prominent figures like five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault in the past. “Some are content to just become professional and don’t always have the fight. It’s a real problem, because our juniors and under-23s are getting very good results; we are in the top three in the world.”

Unfortunately the problem may be self-perpetuating, according to Lappartient, as French teams will get to do less top races.

“Many criticised the method of allocation by the UCI for the World Tour,” he said, “but perhaps it’s not that. If we’d won more races we’d be ranked higher. You can make all the modes of classification that you want but still French cycling would be at the tail of the peloton. AG2R-La Mondiale is 20th, that’s our place!

“It’s a vicious circle,” he explained, “the fewer teams at the top level, the fewer points you score in races. We must understand the international dimension of cycling; our calendar is very well developed for the benefit of the French, but we cannot simply be happy with confrontations between ourselves.”

For Lappartient, cycling has done far more in the fight against doping that other sports, many of whom seem happy to ignore the problem. He does concede though, that there is still a lot to be done, paricularly in the sport’s attitude to offenders.

“This is a long hard subject, but it is something that we have to be aware of,” he said. “In our sport at least we try, we fight against doping and we find it; we put a radar on the side of the road and we have a patrol to catch the offenders.

“Other sports have a radar, but not a patrol,” he said.

“I’m not sure that in other disciplines that the World number one has been molested,” he added. “If there is one sport that is fighting against doping it is cycling. Last year in France there were 208 blood tests in cycling, 28 in football [soccer – ed] and one in athletics… Of course we are going to find a bit more than the others.

“We can no longer play against other sports,” he said. “Considerable efforts have been made to tackle the problem in cycling, but there is still work to be done.

Part of the problem, as Lappartient sees it, is the way that cycling is apparently so willing to forgive its transgressors. He singled out two of the new ProTeams for 2011, Vacansoleil and the Luxembourg Cycling Project, both of which were chosen ahead of FDJ and Cofidis by the UCI.

“Me, I think much of it needs to be transferred to the team managers at an international level,” he explained. “When I see that some teams are recruiting riders like [Riccardo Ricco] and [Ezequiel] Mosquera, they don’t understand the plot.

“Someone like Kim Andersen,” he added, “who – although his penalty was lifted – was still banned for life for three positive controls, found a team! There is a duty to set an example; we need to put a scanner on our door.”

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