Ask any sports fan what comes to mind when you mention the word ‘tour’ and it’s likely that the Tour de France is the first event mentioned.
French and Dutch riders can be counted among its winners but with another tour of a different kind about to take its place on the sporting calendar – the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Tour – French and Dutch athletes have ambitions of being on its initial role of honour.
The opening meeting of the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Tour, the Indoor Meeting Karlsruhe, will take place in the German city on Saturday and one day ahead of the event, French pole vault world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie and the Netherlands’ 200m world champion Dafne Schippers talked about the exciting and innovative new series involving four meetings on both sides of the Atlantic during the next two weeks.
“I think the tour is a very good innovation and, for me, it is good that there is a wildcard to the World Indoor Championships for the Tour winners," said Lavillenie. "This means that, for a country like France, if I win the tour then we can send three pole vaulters to the World Indoor Championships, because two is not really enough because we have good depth in this event.
“It is also important to remember that the Diamond League was not perfect at the beginning, but improved year on year and that will happen with the IAAF World Indoor Tour. Everyone will learn from 2016, and 2017 will be even better.”
“What more can I add?” quipped Schippers, after the Frenchman alongside her had expressed his thoughtful views.
“I am not going to do all four meetings on the tour but for those athletes who are doing the indoor season it now provides a really good focal point.”
Wins wanted in Karlsruhe
Both athletes are keen to leave Karlsruhe as winners and get valuable points that count towards the tour standings in their event.
Schippers will be having her first outing of the year while Lavillenie is aiming to get his first victory of 2016 after finishing a disappointing fourth place finish on his yearly debut in Rouen last month.
“The only thing I have won so far this year is a race in a car,” joked the keen motor sports enthusiast, who has competed in the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
“I have a little pain in one of my ankles but I don’t think it’s that important. I’m used to competing with little injuries and I didn’t come 600 kilometres for nothing,” he added, answering queries about his current fitness.
“This will be the fourth time I’ve competed in Karlsruhe, but the three previous occasions were at a different venue. I’ve tried out this track and it’s fast and I like that, a fast track for my first competition of the year,” said Schippers, sporting a deep tan after recent training spells in the South African city of Stellenbosch and more recently Tenerife.
“The competition is very good and I like good competition. It’s my first competition of the year but my shape is very good; it’s been a good winter for me. It’s the first winter when I have trained specifically for the sprints. The changes have not been so much; instead of specific training for the long and high jump, I have been doing jumping exercises more closer related to sprinting.
“The indoor season is also very important to me as it helps my outdoor season, I certainly want to be starting better than I did last year."
Schippers was reluctant to be too specific about what would be a good performance on Saturday but, despite her own denials that she had not been thinking about it, the long-standing Dutch record, and former world record, of 7.00 by the two-time world indoor 60m champion Nelli Cooman must now be in her sights.
“We’ll see. I’m just thinking of a personal best,” suggested Schippers demurely.
Rivals not registered
Schippers denied too that she had cast her eyes too seriously over her opponents on Saturday, despite the presence of Great Britain’s 20-year-old talent Dina Asher-Smith, who finished second to Schippers in last year’s European Indoor Championships 60m final.
“I don’t look too much at rankings,” said Schippers. But a rather paler Lavillenie (“I went to Reunion for two weeks and it was cloudy all the time!”) chipped in: “I do all the time.”
Well he might, as world champion Shawn Barber has cleared 6.00m this year while his German predecessor Raphael Holzdeppe went over an indoor best of 5.84m to beat everybody in Rouen, and he will face both men in Karlsruhe in a competition that brings all three IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 medallists together.
“They both had good starts to the season but then they did not jump so well in Dusseldorf (on Wednesday) so that shows also that they are beatable.
"But the fact is that it’s very early in the season, and there is more than one month to the World Indoor Championships, so however things go for all of us here, I am sure they will be ready for then and I think it will be a good competition in Portland.”
In contrast to the Tour de France, which often has more than 20 stages, the IAAF World Indoor Tour only has four stops in 2016: Karlsruhe, Boston, Stockholm and Glasgow.
Nevertheless, if the likes of Lavillenie and Schippers can perform up to expectations, it will certainly brighten the dark winter nights as well as provide a tip sheet for next month’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, which will be held between 17-20 March.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF