Contador booed by crowd in Puy du Fou arena
The 198 riders set to compete in this year’s Tour de France attended the official team presentation held in a fake Roman arena at the Puy du Fou theme park on Thursday afternoon.
The 22 teams entered the arena one at a time with some being pulled in carriages and others appearing from a rising platform like a boy band.
Most of the riders were cheered by the crowd but Alberto Contador was booed loudly as he stepped on to the stage. Earlier his team manager Bjarne Riis had defended the Spaniard’s right to race because his Clenbuterol positive from last year’s Tour de France has still to be considered by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, the crowd’s disapproving reaction indicates Contador is not welcomed by many of the French spectators at this year’s race.
The riders climbed on stage wearing their racing kit, with Garmin-Cervelo showing off their new white and blue argyle design. New national champions such as Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) proudly donned their new jerseys.
“It’s a great place for a gladiator," Cancellara said with a wry smile confirming he would be targeting a spell in the yellow jersey despite the Tour de France starting with a road race stage on Saturday.
“I’m motivated. It’s the first time there’s no prologue for me but we’ll still aiming for the yellow jersey. Why not?”
Evans, Wiggins, Leipheimer and Hincapie ready to race
All the overall contenders claimed they were on form and ready for three weeks of intense racing. Some looked more relaxed than others.
“I hope to get back to the same heights of 2009 when I was fourth,” Wiggins said. “We’ve raced and trained all year for it. I feel good after the Criterium du Dauphine and feel there is more to come.”
Cadel Evans seemed to enjoy the presentation, tweeting just after: "Tour 'preso' done....fun in the 'Gladiators' arena. Nice!” Other riders posted photographs of the team presentation via Twitter.
On stage Evans said: “Finishing second twice makes you hungry for more. I’m happy to be here. It’s a beautiful start to the Tour de France. I’m looking forward to the start on Saturday.”
Levi Leipheimer also seemed on form, getting a cheer from the crowd for speaking in French. “I love what I do. I love cycling and the Tour de France. I think the RadioShack team is very good and perhaps Sunday (the team time trial) will be good for us.”
George Hincapie (BMC) also got a cheer as he was about to start a record-equalling sixteenth Tour de France.
“I’m very honoured to be here. I’ve got so many nice memories from the Tour de France. My wife is from France and I have a special feeling racing here,” he said.