Leblanc hopes to scale Pyrenees to success
Posted: Tuesday July 21, 1998 11:09 AM
Special from L'Equipe, the French sports daily
PARIS (L'Equipe) -- Former world champion Luc Leblanc has often fared well in the Pyrenees, taking the yellow jersey there in 1991 and winning in Hautacam in 1994.
Luc Leblanc has learned to wait before asserting something. Bad luck or sudden changes in his shape have often harmed him when he least expected it.
Before he recorded his first Tour de France stage win in Hautacam, in 1994,ahead of Miguel Indurain himself, there had been his Jaca, Spain, exploit, where Leblanc wore the tour's yellow jersey.
It seemed he would be a contender on this year's Giro di Italia but he couldn't follow the pace in the mountains. During last year's Giro, he was headed for a place on the podium but dropped out after a fall, two days before the race's ended in Milan. In last year's Tour de France, back problems, or maybe problems due to his shorter leg, forced him out of the race.
Every time, he'd let his nature, that of a winner, speak for himself, and said he would win stages or finish on the podium. Even this past winter, when he treated for two slipped discs, and to wear a corset for a month, he never let it get him down down. "My life still revolves around cycling, even if I'm more and more of a family man. The day I can't make sacrifices anymore, I won't linger," he said.
He made sacrifices all winter long, maybe more than he ever did, to get back into acceptable shape. He alternated epidurals, then a long treatment of cortisone shots, in Paris, and practice runs in his region, Provence. After failing in theGiro but coming a close second in the French national championships, he's back in the thick of things in the Pyrenees.
He can't remember ever getting to the first mountain stages positioned so well. The extra edge he has comes from having placed 12th in the time trial, on Correze's hilly roads, without any damage. "I didn't expect to do so well. Without the two or three faults I made in the descents, which forced me to slow down as much as I could toward the end, I could easily have finished in the top 10. But [keeping up] with specialists like Jan Ullrich for 58 kilometers goes to show that I'm in shape," Leblanc said.
It's also the first time Leblanc has avoided falls and accidents in the first week. "It's as stressful and nervous as usual, everybody has a lot of energy and it's very hard to keep one's place in the pack. But there has been no damage. The day before the time trial, I reckon I didn't feel too good. Tonight, the day before we tackle the Pyrenees, I feel better," he said.
Will he be in good enough shape in the Aubisque, Tourmalet and Peyresourde climbs, after having been distanced in the Marmolada and Monte Campione a month ago in the Giro? "We've just discovered that my cortisone treatment weakened my suprarenal glands and I didn't have any energy left when I had to fasten the pace. At the end of the Giro, I was demoralized. Since then, we found an explanation for my difficulties, I'm reassured and even confident. I'd never had such good sensations in a Tour de France time trial. I don't know whether I should talk about a place on the podium or not. That's not how I see the situation. If I clear the mountains, I'll make a difference, I'll be able to talk about the podium. As soon as the first stage in the Pyrenees, my turf, somehow, even if I won a stage in the Alps in the 1996 Tour de France, I'll know what to think," a wiser and more cautious Leblanc simply said.
The heat that's been plaguing the peloton for a few days doesn't seem to affect him either. "I'm someone who sweats a lot. My teammates are always surprised to see me melt like I do. But it's my nature and I always manage in scorching heat," he said.
And if there is one rider he fears, it's Marco Pantani. "In the 1994 Tour, he was 10 minutes behind before we got to the Pyrenees, and he still finished on the podium. Today, Pantani is less than five minutes behind. If Ullrich leaves him a little room, he'll be taking a lot of risks. When he puts on his show, he can take 15 minutes and do it the following day. The worse thing is that nobody can follow him," he commented.
Leblanc, whose best place on the Tour was fourth, in 1993, still remembers the one time he made the mistake of trying to follow Pantani. "It was in the Ventoux climb, in the 1994 Tour, and it was crazy of me. To do it again, I would have to feel like I'm having a really really great day," the former world champion said.
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