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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

News feature, January 10, 2005

Optimistic Armstrong talks about new team in Discovery Channel team press conference

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Silver Spring, Maryland

Lance Armstrong
Photo ©: CN
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To open up the Discovery Channel team press conference, sports manager Johan Bruyneel talked about the goals of the Discovery Channel team in 2005 and one of his key points was that in it's previous incarnation as the USPS squad, "we have a strong team and have made some very strong additions in terms of stage racing. We have never won a World Cup race and we will try to win a classic for the first time. We will do for the first time in our history the Giro and have a rider (Savoldelli) who has won it before and is very motivated to be on the podium at least, again. And everybody knows that for the Tour De France, we haven't taken a decision yet for Lance; everything is kind of in the air, but at the same time, we have a young rider in (Yaroslav) Popovych who I think can be a future contender, so depending on what Lance's program will be, we'll further refine our goals (for the Tour). We'll try to be as high as possible in the ProTour classification.

Subsequent to Bruyneel's comments, Armstrong was then asked about his preparation for the 2005 season and how not focusing on the Tour might change his season. Armstrong admitted that "it's definitely a departure for me… not focusing at least at the beginning of the year on the Tour. I guess the good news is that if you train for the classics and try and ride the classics at the front, you will advance your form far enough to where at least you're not trying to play catch-up. That's my approach; I'm planning on having a good training camp and getting into the season and evaluating things in late April after the classics. In my opinion, I still think that's a fine time to adjust your form, if you need to slow things down or you need to speed things up. There's nothing that says that I'm gonna be in great condition in the classics. I mean, I think it's a romantic idea; there's nothing that says I'm going to be in the front or I'm going to be a contender. So we'll see in late April."

When asked if the possibility of seeing another rider sipping champagne on the Champs Elysées, Armstrong shrugged off the question, saying that "it might make me a little hungry. Even if I do the Tour, there's always the possibility that someone else wins… I'm fine with that. I've been fortunate enough to (win the Tour) six times and that's something no one can take away."

2002 Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli
Photo ©: CN
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With the recent news of his court victory for libel from Irish sportswriter David Walsh and his newspaper, the Sunday Times of London, Armstrong discussed the implications of his vindication. "Besides us, I think that this ruling by the High Court of London was a significant victory for the readers (of the Sunday Times of London) because the people who pick up the paper deserve to read (reporting) that's not biased and fair and balanced. So we're very happy, obviously, with the judge's decision; we respect the decision but the process carries on; this (ruling) is not a final, final, final victory, but certainly a good indication of what is going to be accepted and not be accepted in world journalism. We're very proud, but above all, we're very thankful that Discovery stood by us."

When queried about his actual contractual obligations to Discovery Communications with his future participation in the Tour De France, Armstrong responded that, "I'm not the type of person who does a deal and doesn't live up to my end of the deal. I've never worked that way, and that won't be the case here. So what's important is (I've said) 'yes' to do one Tour and to try and win that Tour. Although I've got the (Tour victory) record now, that doesn't mean that I can go and ride around for three weeks and enjoy it. I prefer to go and ride on the front and win a seventh and I promised I'd try that."

Lance elaborated the specific plans for his spring classics campaign, saying, "Right now, the plan is to ride the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Flèche Wallonne… and that could change with a race here or there; we could add Milano-Sanremo, we could take out the Tour of Flanders. I raced a lot of the classics two years ago so it hasn't really been that long ago since then… I did an OK Flanders two years ago and did what I considered a strong Liege. I thought I was close to winning but then again in those (classics) races, when you think you're close to winning, you're never really that close to winning. So I'd like to go back and finally win one of those. I've been second in Liege twice and second in Amstel Gold race twice…too many times. And second in other World Cups several times, so it's time to finally go and try to win one of the monuments of cycling."

Johan Bruyneel
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Armstrong addressed the question of team personnel changes from US Postal and the departure of Floyd Landis by explaining that, "Floyd is a bit of a double loss because he's number one, a good bike rider and number two, he's an American, and we like to have both of those kinds of guys on the team. But Floyd, through his hard work and our development of him had already become a hot commodity, especially after the final week of the Tour (in 2004) when he showed he was a guy who could recover and hang in there. He didn't have a great first part of the Tour, but he came back and rode very hard and it didn't take a genius to figure out he was making everybody suffer at the Tour.

"But us, like every other team, has financial restraints and we came to a point where he was getting offers from a lot of other teams that were big and lucrative and he chose to leave and we support that decision… we would like to have kept (Floyd) but it happens every year - where we simply just can't match offers. Cycling is the ultimate free-agent sport, where when your contract is up, there's no obligation to stay or hang around. Floyd chose to leave and we support him and we wish him well. Perhaps there was a little bit of an alliance with Tyler (at Phonak) because he was the only American and that way Floyd would have someone else to talk to at the (team) dinner table. It will be good… Floyd's a good guy, a hard worker, a big talent…"

2005 Discovery Channel Trek
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Armstrong has mentioned attempting the World Hour Record for several years, but it looks like he may be getting serious about it. When asked about what specific preparations he had taken so far, his response showed that he was looking hard at tackling the Hour. "(The Hour Record) has become a serious consideration and I actually have in my possession the very first version of the track that I've been trying to do some testing on. (The Hour) is something that fascinates me; Johan and I have not really sat down and talked a lot about it, you know, what it takes to do it, where it fits in in the year, which I think is one of the trickiest things. I spent a lot of time talking to Chris Carmichael and his team (at CTS) about it and the proper approach.

"I think the trick with the Hour Record is where you do it. Obviously we can do it in Manchester where it's been done several times. Ideally we would look for a high-altitude location and as we all know, there are not that many covered velodromes at altitude, so then you're at the mercy of the winds and the elements outside, or the temperature if it's not exactly in the summertime. We want to do it at altitude and it's just a question of where we go, what we find and if we build a velodrome to do it, and then take the velodrome down. And I think that's probably the most likely scenario as of today: Do we want to cover Colorado Springs and resurface it, or do go to Salt Lake City or somewhere like that and build a new velodrome?"

Belgian Brains Trust
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One reporter asked Armstrong about how much the hospitality of the French, or lack thereof might affect his decision to ride the Tour, the Texan smiled and retorted back, "Roll out the red carpet at the prologue? I don't know…it depends when you are talking about hospitality; the organizers or the people on the roadside? I have to say that I think the perception that the relationship between myself and the entire French public is strained and heated and hateful is absolutely incorrect. I have what I consider to be the majority of the people supporting me on the side of the road. OK there are people who say nasty things and wave in a funny way… yeah? But you're from Philadelphia (referring to reporter from Philadelphia Enquirer); what happens when the (Dallas) Cowboys roll in to town to play the Eagles? It's not love and kisses. This is big time sport and I'm fine with that; but if the Cowboys stay away from Philly because of that…so I've read some stuff where the Tour organizers have said 'maybe it's good if (Armstrong) sits out a year and lets somebody else win and it's a rematch and it's a comeback. That does sound like a good idea but I just simply haven't…that's not gonna be what makes the decision. I have to say that to give credit where credit's due, there are a lot of people on the side of the road there, with the French public who are very supportive. I've lived in (France) for a long time and I love to go back there, more than anyplace and I'll be back to do it again; I just don't know when."

Yaroslav Popovych
Photo ©: CN
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The incredible popularity of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's yellow LiveStrong wristbands was another topic in the press conference and Armstrong admitted his surprise at the popularity. "I have to admit I never thought it would happen", responded Armstrong. "In the beginning, Nike offered to make us five million; basically give us five million and I really thought we would get to a million and have a lot of these things left over. But for some wild reason, the world picked up on them and for a lot of really lucky things along the way, it just continued on…through five, through ten, fifteen, twenty and we are where we are today at twenty-eight or thirty (million LiveStrong wristbands). What comes after that is all the other causes with other colours and other sayings. I'm simply blown away by what has happened. Thirty million of anything is a's a gesture and a huge contribution to our cause. Ultimately I think that the yellow band will be around for a long, long time. It won't be a fad anymore and it won't be a trend. If you walk into hospitals or you walk into an oncology ward, you will see them, I think, forever and that was the true meaning, the true spirit of the yellow band in the beginning and that's the one that means the most to me."

Lance Armstrong
Photo ©: CN
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When asked about the possible impact of the lack of an American contender in this year's Tour De France should he not compete (and with the likely absence of Tyler Hamilton and possible absence of Floyd Landis), Armstrong was frank when he said "I think we have to be prepared for this… perhaps we've been a little bit spoiled; I guess if you go back to 1986 to 2004, l guess 18 years, (Americans) have about 9 Tour victories, so fifty percent; we're batting five hundred, that's pretty good for Americans in a sport that's not really our sport and we've only recently come to understand and love. We have to be prepared for a few dry years. But we think that with some people we have there, although they may not be American, we think they stand a pretty good chance. And then, take for example, a young rider like Tom Danielson; we think he has tremendous potential. Is he going to win the Tour De France in 2005? Probably not…he probably won't even ride the Tour De France. But we think bringing him here and developing him in the proper way, and using his skills as a great climber and as a good time trialist, that we can show him in the future how to win the Tour."

A new revelation that came out at Armstrong's Discovery press conference is that his mother Linda had recently completed a book and Lance discussed this by explaining that he had finished reading the galleys and it "was probably one of the most profound days of my life, because there were a lot of questions I had always had about my life that she and I had never talked about because we don't really sit around and talk about the past. But to read the stories and read the history; as I think most of us know, I never really, truly met my father, but to hear those stories about how they met and how her life changed and having a young child at the age of seventeen and growing up really, which was a shock to me to read in the book really growing up in poverty was something that I never had to go through because she was a tough lady and a hard worker and hopefully my children will never have to go through that either. I was down in Mexico all alone and I took the book down there and read it and I tell you what, it blew me away."


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