"There's a time to say how things truly are. I don't care how I come across in saying them, but enough excuses have been made." The man to speak up is Laurent Fignon, organiser of Paris-Corrèze and two-time Tour de France winner, and he's fed up with looking for excuses on why French riders cannot measure up to their international rivals any more. The state of French cycling is an almost national debate in France, as the nation is desperate for some victories on home soil, especially at the Tour de France.
"The sports directors don't do a good job any more," he was quoted in today's L'Equipe as saying. "They lack competence and don't have any authority over their riders. The non-results of French teams are not only the consequences of doping," he continued, alluding to the wide-spread theory that French cycling is less competitive because it is supposedly 'cleaner'.
"You have to stop talking about the two speeds of cycling. There will always be guys who cheat. In France, there are valuable riders, but there are not exploited like they should be. We might not have great champions, but we do have riders who can do a top ten placing at the Tour." By that, Fignon probably did not only refer to Christophe Moreau, who seemed to be the only one up to the challenge this summer.
But the man with the round-shaped John Lennon glasses, who used to be called the 'professor' in the 80s peloton, doesn't blame the team management only. "The riders have the wrong concept of their job. They have to learn to train 7-8 hours a day, and learn how to win even less important races in order to reproduce the same performance on a higher level."
On the long run, Fignon is scared that this situation will have an even bigger impact on French cycling than disappointed spectators. "The level of international cycling is increasing, whereas ours is getting lower and lower. The gap between our cycling and the other's will continue to grow. If this trend continues, there won't be French teams on the Tour de France any more. That's mind-blowing for one of the founding countries of the sport. In France, we have great team sponsors, but we'll end up disappointing them and losing them eventually."