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French president to promote Annecy Olympic bid

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will travel to Annecy on Friday to meet with the IOC evaluation commission inspecting the Alpine city's proposed venues for the 2018 Winter Games.

Sarkozy will meet with the commission members in Annecy following a trip to the Haute Savoie region to discuss the economy, his office said Wednesday.

Annecy is the first stop on the commission's tour, which will continue with visits to the other candidate cities, Pyeongchang in South Korea, and Munich, Germany.

The panel, chaired by IOC member Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, started its work on Wednesday with meetings with Annecy officials.

Several topics including the bid's legacy, the Games' concept, the venues, the Olympic villages, accommodation, transport and environment were on the agenda.

According to the IOC's rules, the 11 members of the commission are not allowed to speak with media during their visit and will only deliver their impressions during Saturday's closing press conference.

Secretary of state for tourism Frederic Lefebvre said after the meetings that the commission members wanted to make sure the accommodations would be of high quality, describing this as "very important for the success of Olympic Games."

"They wanted proofs that what is written in our bid book regarding services, accommodation and catering is what we are going to deliver," Lefebvre said. "And we gave them guarantees."

Annecy officials are adamant they have the capacity to welcome fans and others in all categories of hotels.

However, Annecy's bid book contains 530 hotels, which could be seen as a major handicap by the commission, with the IOC likely to favor more concentrated projects.

"We are aware of this and we will need to optimize our transportation system," said Barbara Martins-Niot, the accommodation expert for the Annecy bid.

Annecy officials said about 240,000 hotel rooms would be available during the Games and that "95 percent of the rooms are already available for the IOC, and 89 percent for other groups."

Evaluation commission members are set to start their inspection on Thursday with visits of the snowboard, freestyle, cross-country and Nordic skiing venues in La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand and Semnoz.

Annecy is considered to be running behind its rivals after being left in turmoil last December when former bid chief Edgar Grospiron resigned amid disagreements over funding. Grospiron has been replaced by Charles Beigbeder, an entrepreneur whose main tasks are to secure new sponsorships deals and to promote the bid internationally.

Annecy is making its first Olympic bid, although France has staged the Winter Games three times — Chamonix 1924, Grenoble 1968 and Albertville 1992.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city on July 6 in Durban, South Africa.

Sarkozy's trip to Annecy will follow that of Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Fillon met with commission members on Tuesday and pledged state support to the bid.

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