Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc, currently in Australia following the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, spoke about his impressions of the JCTDU and his respect for Australian riders to the AFP newsagency. The former professional cyclist and journalist is now the organiser of the greatest stage race of European cycling, but continues to observe the management of other competitions.
"It's strange of course," said the Frenchman about Australia. "Vast spaces and sun in January. It's a perfect place to start the season for European teams. I actually wonder why there aren't more top European riders who choose this kind of preparation." Leblanc, who will step down from his position at the end of 2006, also thinks that Australian pros have a different attitude to their European colleagues.
"Australian riders have this special frame of mind, like warriors or adventurers," he said. "In France, we have the right structures to support young talents, and we give them lots of money and protect them because there are so few right now. The Aussies come to Europe with two pieces of luggage and a bike; they're like pioneers. They try to make a living, a career, so they're tough on themselves, and tough towards others. They're fighters, that's why they're so successful."
Asked if European riders could learn something from their Australian mates, the Tour de France boss replied, "Not on a tactical level. European cycling is superior on technical, tactical and athletic level. But here the spirit of battle is greater - in Europe, it's more comfortable, not only in cycling."
Jean-Marie Leblanc believes in the possibility of an Australian Tour de France podium placing in the coming years. "A young rider like Michael Rogers, who knows how to climb, who's good at time trialling and part of a very professional team with regard to tactics, material and preparation could achieve the Tour podium in two or three years. I'm pretty certain about that."