Oleg Tinkov wants to boycott the Tour de France next year? Good on him but I’ll be there with my team! I’m a Frenchman, I have a French team and no reason to boycott the race. The Tour de France is not a product, it’s heritage. A businessman who wants to make money in sport shouldn’t come into cycling, he’d better choose tennis or football. We have to deal with the history of our sport. It has been created by individuals or newspapers, not by federations, and that is not specific to the Tour de France. Anyway, our sponsors support us firstly and mostly because of the greatness of the Tour de France.
Some people always want more money for the biggest teams but I’m afraid of the gap between small and big teams to keep growing. It’s a danger for cycling. Formula 1 is losing interest these days because triumph without peril brings no glory. More money doesn’t deliver a better spectacle in cycling.
France leads the world in at least one domain: it’s cycling, thanks to the Tour de France. As a proud Frenchman and in my capacity as president of the French professional cycling league, it’s my duty to defend that leading position. Our language is part of the beauty of our sport. I have nothing against the Anglophones, I’ve had several of them in my team like Bradley Wiggins and Bradley McGee and it has worked out pretty well. I read Cyclingnews several times a day but when I receive an email from A.S.O in English, I complain. I remind them that one of the roles of the Tour de France is to promote France. French is THE language of cycling. It’s the official language of the UCI and the IOC. In the cycling community, we shouldn’t forget who we are and where we come from.
The Tour de France starts in the Netherlands this year. I have no problem with that. As former Tour boss Jacques Goddet said: “It’s a way to export the French savoir-faire.” We’re lucky to have a beautiful flag – others look good too – so when I see the Patrouille de France (the air force) flying above the peloton on the Champs-Elysées where the Tour always returns, it gives me goose bumps to see the blue, white and red colours displayed in the sky. It’s wonderful.
On Bastille Day, our national anthem La Marseillaise is played in the FDJ team bus and sometimes Le Chant des Partisans, the song of the resistance fighters during WWII. Ironically, since the team was created in 1997, we have never won on July 14, but we believe we will! Unfortunately, there won’t be the French champion at the Tour this year (Steven Tronet’s continental team Auber 93 isn’t eligible, ed.) but when he’s in my team, there’s no sponsor’s name on his jersey. I wish this would be a rule like in the past when I was a rider myself. It’s a pity that Vincenzo Nibali doesn’t wear a real Italian champion jersey.
When French riders do well at the Tour, it puts smiles back on people’s faces. Economically, times are hard for many. As I came back from last year’s Tour, I could feel the difference in my village of Renazé and anywhere else in the country. People were happy again. The other day I was driving on the ring road in Paris, someone yelled at me: “Don’t give up, keep defending French cycling!” I didn’t know who he was.
I hope French riders will win stages and do well on GC like last year. It looks good. Thibaut Pinot has won a mountain stage at the Tour de Suisse, so did Romain Bardet at the Dauphiné. Arnaud Démare has won sprints at the Tour of Belgium, so did Nacer Bouhanni at the Dauphiné. French fans love duels but it can’t happen with so many other top contenders. Our sport is pretty unpredictable because it depends on weather conditions a lot. We have to overcome many obstacles before we can target an overall result. Christian Prudhomme wants one scenario per day. It’ll make a thrilling race. Fans won’t get bored.
I feel sorry for mister Tinkov but he’s not obliged to come. We’re already many Tour de France lovers, and more and more all around the globe, not only in France, I know that.