By Jean-François Quénet in Bourgoin-Jallieu
Yesterday, as he does every year, Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc paid a "friendly and semi touristical visit" to the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. But as soon as he walked into the race village, Leblanc realized that more was expected of him than "relaxation or comments about Fabian Wegmann, David Zabriskie or Thomas Voeckler". After yesterday's stage, Leblanc called a press conference in Bourgoin-Jallieu to discuss the situation in Spain and its effect on the Tour de France, but made it clear from the start: "There won't be any scoop".
"We don't have all the cards in hand," the director of the Tour de France explained. "We can only follow the rhythm of the justice. We're waiting for information from the Spanish justice but we add our determination to that already expressed by UCI president Pat McQuaid. We also appreciate that the AIGCP has told Manolo Saiz that he's not welcome in cycling any more and we approve the courage of Phonak's manager John Lelangue to keep away from racing two of his riders named in the Spanish affair. [We will not hesitate] as soon as we'll have the necessary information."
The board of ASO will meet this week to discuss the matter. "Fifteen days before the start of the Tour de France, the riders of the teams involved must know if they'll start or not. We will not go to Strasburg without having taken a decision," said Leblanc.
While there are important differences between the two teams whose Tour participation is in doubt, the outcome may be the same. As Leblanc explained, "Communidad Valenciana was invited by the organisers who can decide not to invite them any more but Liberty Seguros, as it was called at the time, was qualified under the ProTour rules because they had a license. If they don't have a license any more, they aren't qualified any more."
The ProTour commission - which is the final arbiter of the awarding of ProTour licences - still has to approve the financial and ethical conditions of Kazakh sponsor Astana taking over from Liberty Seguros, and eventually the presence of Manolo Saiz as a team manager and/or as the owner of Active Bay. "The facts look overwhelming," Leblanc said. "This is not sport any more, it's hooliganism!"
The director of the Tour also suggested that no team would be chosen as a replacement, should Communidad Valenciana and/or Astana-Würth not participate. That Alexandre Vinokourov is one of the favourites for this year's Tour de France will not have any impact on the board's decision, Leblanc said. Saiz was already "not welcome" at the 1999 Tour de France but he was reintegrated by the UCI. Leblanc didn't give any scoop in Bourgoin-Jallieu but made it pretty clear that Manolo Saiz is not welcome any more at the Tour de France.