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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Cipollini denied Tour place
Mario Cipollini
Cipollini is angry with Tour's organisers
World champion Mario Cipollini has hit out at Tour de France organisers, after he and fellow Italian Marco Pantani were not included in July's race.

Pantani's and Cipollini's teams did not receive the wildcard spots in the 22-team line-up.

Instead, three French teams and one from the Basque country were included.

"I'm amazed. If I said what was going through my mind right now I would never be let into France again," said the 36-year-old Domina Vacanze's leader.

The Tour de France is a dictatorship
Mario Cipollini

"This decision offends the sport of cycling because as world champion I'm an important part of the sport.

"The Tour de France is a dictatorship, race director Jean Marie Leblanc said he was happy to have us during the winter so I can't understand why he's changed his mind."

Cipollini found out about his team's fate only minutes before the start of the ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia on Monday.

There is still a chance he could enter the race in France if Team Coast remains suspended by the UCI.

In that case their place would go to either Swiss team Phonak, Domina Vacanze or team Bianchi, who are planning to take over Team Coast's riders.

Pantani's Mercatone Uno were never likely to be given a wild card because of their low ranking.

Cipollini is 36 and has not been at his best
Jean Marie Leblanc
Tour director Leblanc defended his decision not to include Cipollini.

"It was an extremely difficult decision to make. We had to choose between the world champion and French riders," he said.

"The fact that Cipollini is 36 and has not been at his best since the start of the season weighed heavily on our decision."

Cipollini has never finished the Tour despite winning 12 stages in six attempts.

But he was adamant he should be allowed to compete in the race.

"Many French cycling fans for sure know who's Cipollini, while they hardly know the names of most French cyclists invited to the Tour," he said.

Elsewhere, German cyclist Jan Ullrich, the Tour's 1997 winner, will soon find out whether he could take part in this year's Tour.

His former Team Coast are currently suspended by the International Cycling Union for financial reasons.

However, they were automatically selected by Tour organisers as a top 10 team in the world rankings, pending financial developments.

Ullrich's agent announced last week that he had quit Team Coast but if the outfit's bike manufacturers Bianchi are approved as a main sponsor then the squad is set to stay together.

Full list of teams in 2003 Tour de France

Final invitations:
Brioches La Boulangere (Fra)
AG2R (Fra)
Jean Delatour (Fra)
Euskaltel (Spa/Basque)

Automatically qualified:
Team Coast (Ger) - pending financial decision
Gerolsteiner (Ger)
Team Telekom (Ger)
Lotto-Domo (Bel)
Team CSC (Den)
Kelme-Costa Blanca (Spa)
Ibanesto.com (Spa)
Once-Eroski (Spa)
Cofidis, le Crédit par Téléphone (Fra)
Rabobank (Hol)
Alessio (Ita)
Sidermec (Ita)
Fassa Bortolo (Ita)
US Postal Service (USA)

Previous invitations:
Quick Step-Davitamon (Bel)
Crédit Agricole (Fra)
FDJ.com (Fra)
Saeco Macchine per Caffè-Longoni Sport (Ita)



SEE ALSO
The rebellious professional
18 May 03  |  Cycling
Cipollini equals record
18 May 03  |  Cycling

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