By Jean-François Quénet in Cholet
After a difficult Tour de France with one doping scandal after another and bitter tension between the organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and cycling's governing body, the UCI, there was a great deal of speculation that the Tour de France would take drastic action for next year's event and embrace the model of national teams instead of trade teams. Some of this speculation came about because the Tour de l'Avenir, another race organised by the ASO, returned to the national teams model this year. ASO's Tour director Christian Prudhomme was in Cholet for the finish of stage three, and denied that there are any parallels between the two events.
One year ago, the ASO chose to integrate the Tour de l'Avenir in the new UCI Nations Cup, which features national teams for U23 riders only. "National teams at the Tour de l'Avenir have nothing to do with the Tour de France," Prudhomme clarified in Cholet. "This is the true revival of the Tour de l'Avenir with the new category: Under 23 instead of Under 26."
Prudhomme supported the model of national teams for the Tour de l'Avenir. "The formula of national teams suits the young categories to perfection," Prudhomme declared. "Spectators who don't know much about the young guys can identify the teams more easily." However, the professional riders and teams are quite well known, and a return to national teams for the Tour would spell disaster for trade team sponsorships, so it is highly unlikely that the Tour will venture into that territory.
One territory the town of Cholet hopes the Tour will venture into is its own - the town is bidding for inclusion in the 2008 Tour de France, and is hoping to be a stop on the route between Brest and Brittany, according to the local newspaper Le Courrier de l'Ouest. The mayor of Cholet, Gilles Bourdouleix, is none other than the brother-in-law of Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme, giving the Tour boss another reason to visit the Tour de l'Avenir finish.
Cholet is one of the very rare towns whose image was affected by the scandals of the 1998 Tour de France, the last time it saw the Tour de France in its streets. In Cholet, Stuart O'Grady took the yellow jersey and Festina's DS and doctor Bruno Roussel and Eric Rijkaert were arrested, and the town hopes to have better luck next year.
"We currently have 227 bidding cities for 20 days of racing each year," said Prudhomme, who wouldn't confirm anything about next year's course before the launch of the 2008 Tour de France in Paris on October 25.
More than the course, changes to the essence of the race is highly anticipated as the director of the Tour made it clear at the end the event in July that they won't go with the same teams qualification system anymore, neither do they wish to work with UCI anymore, which puts many question marks on the board for the whole cycling community.