Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said that he would welcome plans to reduce the size of teams at the race in 2013.
The UCI’s management committee holds a special meeting on Friday to discuss the fall-out to the Lance Armstrong affair, and it is understood that one of the proposals under consideration will be a reduction of team sizes in the Grand Tours, from nine riders to eight.
“We wouldn’t complain about having one rider less on each team, mainly as a matter of security but also so that the race might be a little less deadlocked,” Prudhomme told AFP at the presentation of the route of the 2013 Tour in Paris on Wednesday.
Such a measure would reduce the Tour peloton from 198 to 176 riders, and Prudhomme said that it was a more palatable option than simply inviting fewer teams. In 2013, the 18 WorldTour teams receive an automatic berth, while ASO will distribute four wildcard invitations. In 2012, three of the four wildcard slots went to French teams in order to ensure a certain quota of French riders in the field.
“You also need to have a link with the territory you pass through,” Prudhomme said. “We always play on national preference in the races that we organise, French teams in France, Belgian teams in Belgium.”
Prudhomme also confirmed that there will be no time bonuses at the Tour de France in 2013, while there will again be just one intermediate sprint per stage per stage in the points competition.
Rider confessions came too late says five-time Tour winner
Former Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx has told the Belgian press that he is "sickened" by the events that have surrounded disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after details of systematic doping at the US Postal team were revealed in USADA's Reasoned Decision report.
Arguably the greatest cyclist of all time, Merckx says those involved in providing the authorities with information should have done so sooner - coming clean and admitting their errors of the past comes too late says the once proud Armstrong supporter.
"I'm angry at the riders for speaking to investigators," Merckx said on Le Soir.
"Damn it, that they speak up at the time, at least that would be useful. Afterwards is too late. If a rider is concerned about questionable practices, it's his duty to speak up for the good of others."
Merckx had previously expressed his support of the former Tour winner however, with news the UCI handed Armstrong a lifetime ban in addition to stripping his seven Tour de France wins, the Belgian is left deeply disappointed with the state of the sport.
"Lance has been very correct all through his career," Merckx had told La Dernière Heure. "What more can he do? All of the controls that he has done - over 500 since 2000 - have come back negative. Either the controls don't serve any purpose or Armstrong was legit. The whole case is based on witnesses, it's deeply unjust."
Commenting after the UCI's release earlier in the week, Merckx said: "I'm sick, only for my sport. I met Lance many times, he never told me about doping, physicians or other things. He did not need to report to me, it was his problem but I fell into the trap. I am amazed at him, especially after what he went through." he told Le Soir.
Asked what he thought of such a possible ‘gain’ in placings, Escartín said, “I’ve no idea what they will do about the Tour’s podiums, but for me, I’ll always be third in that race.”
“It was over ten years ago, for goodness sake. I wasn’t even married.”
Escartín is one of a handful of top three finishers from the Armstrong era never to be linked to any doping issues. After a string of top ten places in the Tour, the 1999 race, when he won a stage in the Pyrenees, was his best ever performance.
“I don’t want to finish second or first” he added. “It was all a long time ago and however much they want to, they can’t change history. I was third and that’s what counts.”
Formerly one of Spain’s top climbers, who twice finished second in the Vuelta, Escartín would not be drawn on whether he thought Armstrong was guilty or innocent, but said, “it doesn’t seem fair to me that after so many years and having had hundreds of tests, they now take away all his titles.”
Escartín, who now works with the Vuelta organization, said he believed that cycling has “finally touched bottom – and all this after Festina, too. Cycling is a great sport and not as dirty as some would believe. In the last Tour de France they did thousands of tests and there was only one positive. These days, if you cheat, you get caught.”
“It’s possible that some sponsors have used the Armstrong case as an excuse [to quit], but well, some sponsors may leave, but others will come.”
Cyclingnews also contacted Joseba Beloki, who finished three times on the podium during the Armstrong era, but the former ONCE rider said he preferred not to comment.
NRS leader Davison to miss race in preparation for track goals
The Australian National Road Series has been a close fought battle this year with a number of teams including the Budget Forklifts squad vying for stage wins and overall tour honours. The team has proved its ability to challenge last year's dominant Genesys Wealth Advisers squad across all terrains but with Grafton to Inverell coming up this weekend, there's plenty to gain and lose at the final NRS race of the season.
Budget Forklifts will be without current NRS leader Luke Davison but the team has known he would be absent for a number of months. Team director Cameron Watt says the loss of Davison due to track commitments won't affect team tactics. The goal at every NRS round has been to win and if Davison holds on to claim the individual NRS title despite missing the race then "so be it."
"Our attitude from day one is to go into each round of the NRS aiming to win that race. This weekend is no different. We are going there to win and if we win the jersey at the end of the year then it's a bonus. We would be just as happy to see Mark O'Brien win Grafton and if Luke gets the jersey too then so be it," Watt told Cyclingnews.
"I think it's the only attitude we could have taken with the tiering of the races. I think that has lessened the title a little bit. We said we would target each race to win and coming up to the end of the year we are pretty happy with how we've gone."
"We just want to win Grafton because of how monumental it is on the calendar. To win and have that on your palmares is a massive thing."
The team will head to Grafton with a number of riders capable of winning the 228km race. O'Brien and Michael Cupitt have proved themselves at past editions and the team will be hoping one of the two can pull off a result. O'Brien is sitting in third place in the NRS standings however, he will not be able to overtake teammate Davison to win the title.
"Morale is pretty high because we have a few guys who have gone pretty close to winning this race. A few of them certainly feel like they've got unfinished business at Grafton. It's one of the big classics in Australia," said Watt.
"We've got Michael Cupitt who has performed well in Grafton over the last few years. He was really on fire early in the season in the hillier tours. With Japan Cup we saw that he's really starting to come back up into top form. He was big help to Mark at Japan so we're expecting big things from Michael."
Demonstrating the strength of the NRS
Budget Forlifts is looking to expand its racing calendar in 2013 and the prelude to next year's campaign was bolstered with the results at the recent Japan Cup. Davison finished fourth in Saturday's criterium while O'Brien was the team's best-place finisher in the tough circuit race on Sunday. Watt said he was very happy with the performance.
"I thought the boys performed really well in the crit. Just to see them represented in nearly every move. In the couple of moves they missed, the team took control to bring it back. That's a good sign for the NRS, that a move can go with a rider from Saxo Bank, Garmin and Liquigas, we send a couple of Budget Forklift riders to the front and we are able to bring it back."
"We had the goal of delivering Luke Davison to the line and we were able to do that. Luke wasn't too far off pulling out a win."
"The number one goal for Budget Forklifts is the NRS. We will do about four UCI tours in Asia but we see that more to help riders move on to the next level. We just want to give them more exposure to the bigger teams and the experience of the bigger races. The extra stress and travel will help develop these riders who are prepared to make the next step," Watt told Cyclingnews.
With the speed of Davison and the climbing ability of O'Brien there could have been numerous situations where the two rider's personal objectives clashed. That hasn't been the case says Watt who referred to the way Davison, O'Brien and the team operate.
"We planned which races would suit each rider and the two have worked tirelessly with each other throughout the year. They have both won quite a few rounds and they just take pleasure in seeing the team win as much as their own personal victories."
"We've often needed the team to defend the leader's jersey and without a strong team behind those two leaders we would not have been able to defend those leads. It sounds a bit corny but it really is all for one, one for all."
Rider development and moving forward
The success of the team this season is not without its downfalls. The impressive run has meant some riders will move on at the end of the year. However, development is also why the team has achieved so many wins. Watt called the situation "bitter sweet" but he's confident the team will be just as strong in 2013.
"It is part of our motto, it exists as a development team and our team owner invests in the team to develop riders onto the next level. We are going to lose a few riders to bigger and better things for next year but we take that as a big gauge of our success. Strangely we are stoked to be losing them to bigger and better things."
Mark Cavendish, who will be riding under the banner of Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 2013, is hopeful that the 2013 Tour de France will give him the opportunity to finally pull on the yellow jersey.
With the Tour's Grand Départ taking place on the island of Corsica, the 200km opening stage between Porto-Vecchio and Bastia will be the first occasion since 1966 that a sprinter can wear the yellow jersey. Cavendish has already got his eye on the prize.
"The first stage should be a sprint and I've never had the opportunity to wear the yellow jersey, so it'll be nice to try for that, and then at the end of the Tour there's a spectacular finish in Paris which has a few changes on the final circuit," he told TeamSky.com.
Cavendish backed up his green-jersey-winning performance in 2011 with fourth this season riding for Sky, winning three stages along the way. He was also named by L'Equipe as the best sprinter to have contested the Tour de France. Remarkably, he is also unbeaten on the Champs Elysees since 2009.
"We'll go all the way around the Arc du Triomphe on the laps, which is a nice way to finish the Tour next year," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Meantime, Cavendish said he respected the actions of Great Britain teammate David Millar and former directeur sportif Rolf Aldag for having confessed to doping.
"These guys care about the sport," he told the BBC. "They ruin their reputation to move the sport on, but other people care more about themselves."
As a passionate campaigner for clean sport, Cavendish said that he felt it "unfair" that riders like himself now had to be asked questions about Lance Armstrong in the wake of the doping scandal that has rocked cycling.
"If you've done something, confess," Cavendish said. "That anyone can damage the sport I love right now, it's frustrating."
Cavendish called Armstrong "stubborn" and also explained that the American has "too much to lose". The 27-year-old continued by saying that there was a lot of anger following the revelations.
"It's a shame cycling has being dragged through this again. It had to come out.
"Us riders here now - and I think I speak for all of us - we're the ones picking the pieces up and having to convince people the sport has changed.
"It's difficult to convince people because of the precedent that's been set and I haven't got the answer, other than to do what I'm doing."
Inaugural experience provided a "steep learning curve", says Bannan
Orica-GreenEdge will be once again chasing individual opportunities in their second Tour de France appearance.
The team's general manager Shayne Bannan was speaking following Wednesday's 2013 Tour de France presentation in Paris, explaining that Orica-GreenEdge would be looking to make an impact on the year's biggest race.
"It certainly promises to be a fantastic bike race," said Bannan. "It's probably significantly harder than this year's edition, but it definitely offers a lot of great opportunities for us."
The Australian-registered team came away from their inaugural showing at the Tour this season without a win, and with green jersey-hopeful Matt Goss' essentially robbed of a chance to take on Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) when he was docked 30 points for a sprint deviation on Stage 12.
In 2013, the team will be looking to get off to an early ascendency with both sprint stages and a team time trial offering the best opportunities given Orica-GreenEdge's objectives.
"The set-up of the first week suits our ambition of trying to take our first yellow jersey," said Bannan. "We obviously have our eyes on the stage four's team time trial, and it means we will need to be up there from the beginning. Over the course of three weeks, there will be quite a few opportunities to hunt for stage wins and potentially one of the other jerseys for some days."
Of the three Grand Tours in 2012, the Vuelta a España proved to be the team's most-successful with Simon Clarke claiming a stage win en route to the Mountains Classification victory. In May, Goss claimed the team's first Grand Tour stage win when he took out Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia.
"I definitely think we are growing into a team that's ready to take on the Tour at a high level," Bannan explained. "This year has been a steep learning curve, but our results during the entire season and the experience that we have gathered this year give us a lot of optimism for our ambitions at next year's Tour de France."
"You are the epitome of the word corruption" alleges former Tour winner
In a brash letter addressed to Pat McQuaid, former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond has demanded the UCI President resign from his position. LeMond posted a copy of the letter on his personal Facebook page and is frank in offering his opinion on the state of the UCI, McQuaid and honorary UCI president Hein Verbruggen. LeMond's actions come in the wake of USADA's report into widespread doping by Lance Armstrong and his teammates at US Postal.
"I want to tell the world of cycling to please join me in telling Pat McQuaid to f##k off and resign," LeMond wrote. "I have never seen such an abuse of power in cycling's history - resign Pat if you love cycling. Resign even if you hate the sport."
The UCI confirmed the lifetime ban of Lance Armstrong and stripped him of his seven Tour de France wins earlier this week however, LeMond states McQuaid knew "damn well what has been going on in cycling, and if you want to deny it, then even more reasons why those who love cycling need to demand that you resign."
LeMond does not blame the UCI as an entity but rather the influence of McQuaid and Verbruggen at the sport's governing body. The American states the main concern in cycling in not doping but rather corruption.
"The problem for sport is not drugs but corruption. You are the epitome of the word corruption," LeMond writes.
"Pat in my opinion you and Hein are the corrupt part of the sport. I do not want to include everyone at the UCI because I believe that there are many, maybe most that work at the UCI that are dedicated to cycling, they do it out of the love of the sport, but you and your buddy Hein have destroyed the sport."
Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen have strenuously denied allegations of corruption and they recently won a defamation case against Floyd Landis in a Swiss court. They launched the action against Landis in April 2011, after he alleged that the governing body had colluded in covering up a positive test by Lance Armstrong at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Landis did not present himself before the court, but he has been ordered to pay McQuaid and Verbruggen the sum of 10,000 Swiss Francs each, and has been ordered to take out advertisements at his own expense publishing the verdict.
McQuaid, Verbruggen and the UCI have instigated similar proceedings against the journalist and former rider Paul Kimmage, and McQuaid denied on Monday that his was a personal issue with the Irishman. LeMond calls for "anyone that loves cycling" to support Kimmage in his defamation case.
"I would encourage anyone that loves cycling to donate and support Paul in his fight against the Pat and Hein and the UCI."
"Don't buy a USA Cycling license. Give up racing for a year, just long enough to put the UCI and USA cycling out of business. We can then start from scratch and let the real lovers in cycling direct where and how the sport of cycling will go."
"As you get older to start to realise Father Christmas doesn't exist"
This year's Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) discusses the state of cycling in the aftermath of USADA's case on Lance Armstrong and says a confession is unlikely from the rider who has been stripped of his seven Tour de France victories.
There's plenty of anger surrounding the case and subsequent information that has come to light however, Wiggins insists the sport is no longer how it was despite the younger generation taking some of the blame for what happened in the past.