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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

First Edition Cycling News for June 6, 2005

Edited by Anthony Tan & Jeff Jones

Armstrong: "Discovery can play the victory"

Armstrong finished fifth in the opening time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: AFP
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Interviewed by Yves Perret from the newspaper that runs the eponymously-named Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Lance Armstrong said on the Thursday evening before the race "Discovery can play the victory".

However, the six-time Tour winner was referring to his able lieutenant and Tour of Catalunya winner, Yaroslav Popovych - not himself. "It is difficult to say because I have not raced for a long time," said Armstrong about his own form. "I feel really good, I'm in good health, and I didn't encounter any problems with my preparation."

Speaking about his preparation, Armstrong said it has been "more or less the same", but alternating more frequently between his home in the States and Europe. Concentrating on endurance as well as a few sessions of intense training, he added his efforts on longer climbs was solid, where he used both the hills around Los Angeles and Girona.

When asked why he spent less time reconnoitering the Pyrenéan stages than previous years, Armstrong admitted "this year, we had a little less time" - but will add to his three days already spent in the Pyrenées after the conclusion of the Dauphiné with another three of four days in the Alps. "Roughly speaking, I will have devoted same time to it as the previous years," he said.

Although naming Popovych as their man for the race, Armstrong intends to go all-out himself at next Wednesday's time trial in Roanne, particularly after falling well short of his best at the time trial in the Tour of Georgia a month and a half ago. "And then there is Ventoux, this bastard!"

But while he describes the 'Giant of Provence' in this way, Armstrong said he has a love-hate relationship with the mythical mountain. "Of course it will be a little special, because there is a long history between him [Ventoux] and me, a love-hate relationship," he said. "The act of climbing Ventoux the last time is like, at the end of July, my last passage as a rider down the Champs-Élysées. These places count in the history of cycling and my own history."

On not having the presence of Vjateslav Ekimov by his side, the 33 year-old said: "He is an important guy on the bike but also in the life of the team, where he sets an example. For us, his absence is a large loss but there is no choice; it necessary to make do without him, and to have nine guys in form at the beginning of the Grande Boucle. But it would have been great to fight my last Tour with a guy like him, a friend for whom I have enormous respect."

Armstrong then spoke a little about life after his retirement, saying he is excited by the prospect. "I want to spend as much time possible with my kids. I do not want to live anymore how I live in this moment. Me here and them in Texas! You know, 14 years in professional cycling, I have not done too badly with my time."

It may seem like he has psychologically retired, but Armstrong added he feels practically the same as previous years going into the 2005 Tour de France, even though he knows he knows he'll soon arrive at the end of the road. "But that [retirement] does not change anything in the way of my commitment or approach in the coming weeks," he said.

"When I roll down the start ramp on July 2, it is to win. You can have a good time, enjoy the last Tour de France and still win it," added Armstrong at a press conference on Saturday evening. "There may come a time when I'm not anywhere near the front and we can say, 'He approached the Tour as a retired athlete.' I hope that's not the case."

Armstrong finished 5th in the opening time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré in Aix-les-Bains yesterday, six seconds behind his team-mate and stage winner George Hincapie.

Ullrich still a step away

Ullrich wins the sprint for fifth place at the GP Schwarzwald
Photo ©: Mani Wollner
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Finishing fifth in an extremely difficult GP Schwarzwald on Saturday, then making the winning break the following day at the GP Kanton Aargau/ Gippingen, where he eventually finished second, Jan Ullrich is edging ever closer to reaching top form - but believes a small improvement is still required to attain optimal condition.

"It's going fine. Today [Sunday], for the first time this year, I'm standing on the podium. This shows my form is on the rise," said Ullrich on t-mobile-team.com.

About the slightly more demanding GP Schwarzwald the day before, which was won by Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann, Ullrich admitted "it was an extra-tough race, so I'm quite satisfied. I was close to the max, but didn't want to go any further.

"It was clear from the beginning this [race] was going to be very tough. Unfortunately, we just missed out on the podium. It was as it always is in Germany: everybody was holding my wheel. I still felt a bit tired. My training in the Pyrenees with 10,000 metres [of vertical climbing] was no walk in the park, either. So fifth place isn't bad."

Added his team-mate Tobias Steinhauser: "Everybody in the team fulfilled their role. We tried everything to bring Jan to the front. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out. Everybody was holding Jan's wheel, so it was hard to escape alone. Jan is increasingly finding his form. I'm optimistic about the Tour."

On his previous week's efforts in the Pyrenées, Ullrich said: "Improvements from the training in the Pyrenées have started to show already. It is good to be familiar with the mountains of the Tour; it's not only about the climbing - the descents are equally important. You have to know the tricky passages.

"I feel the direction is right and the form is coming. However, my season highlight will be no sooner than in four weeks. I'm still one step away from my Tour form, but there's still a little time left."

Nozal, D'Abusco out of Dauphiné

On the morning before the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, UCI medical officers declared Liberty Seguros-Würth rider Isidro Nozal and Michel Scotto D'Abusco (Lampre-Cafitta) unfit to race after pre-race medical controls revealed their haematocrit levels to have exceeded the 50 percent limit.

According to a team statement from Liberty Seguros, Nozal's haematocrit was measured at 52,1 percent, well above the limit allowed. For team manager Manolo Saiz, this is now the second rider in the space of a month that has been declared unfit as a result of an excessive haematocrit; on the eve of the 2005 Giro d'Italia in Reggio Calabria, 27 year-old Portuguese rider Nuno Ribeiro was also found to have a blood haematocrit level of 52 percent, and was subsequently fired from the team without contest.

Besides the ethical code of conduct signed by all ProTour teams, each rider on Liberty Seguros has an additional clause in their contract, stating that they will be immediately dismissed after a 'positive'. The clause is designed to clarify the origin of the result with the assistance of UCI medical team, and take the appropriate disciplinary action if necessary, including termination of a rider's contract.

According to Saiz, Nozal passed the team's medical controls before travelling to France, where the 27 year-old was said to have recorded a haematocrit of 46 percent, a haemoglobin value of 15,2 percent and reticulocyte reading of 1,2 at a hospital in Oviedo on June 1. The day before the prologue at the Dauphiné, Nozal's haematocrit also read 46 percent, according to the team.

"Today [Sunday], when they [the UCI medical inspectors] woke us up in the morning at 8am to pass [medical] controls, we came with total normality, because we were not expecting this," said Saiz, although admitting that "the logical thing is that many people think badly, but we are perplexed, we do not understand."

"I am very surprised and it seems to me to be slightly incredible what is happening, because I was very sure and calm [before]," said a distraught Nozal. "I do not have any [reason] to reproach myself and I feel impotent because I cannot do anything."

Upon hearing the news, Nozal travelled from Geneva to Valencia, where he will undergo various tests under the direction of the UCI to clarify the initial findings. "It is the only solution, to do the controls and to see what happens," he said.

"I want to prove my innocence, because it is the only thing that I can do for me and for my team. Meanwhile, I give up continuing in the team. Already, I know that my sporting career is in danger, but I have to wait to demonstrate that they [the UCI medical inspectors] have been wrong. I am sure that I can demonstrate my innocence, I don't think about anything else."

T-Mobile's acid test

While Jan Ullrich was racing in Germany and Switzerland over the weekend, some of his most-relied on lieutenants at the upcoming Tour de France begun the eight-day Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in southern France on Sunday.

Said directeur-sportif Mario Kummer about the race: "The tour is very demanding - it even goes partly over Tour de France terrain. At the end, we will be able to tell where we are at," he said on t-mobile-team.com.

Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile)
Photo ©: AFP
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Team management's eyes will be most heavily focused on Alexandre Vinokourov, Andreas Klöden and Oscar Sevilla, who, along with Ullrich, will form the backbone of their team in July. Added T-Mobile's Belgian directeur-sportif Frans van Looy: "[The] Dauphiné Libére is the ultimate acid test for both of them."

Kummer also believes their Spanish rider, Francisco Jose 'Paco' Lara, has a good chance of a high overall placing at the Dauphiné. "I hope he could save the form he had at the Tour of Catalonia. I think he might be able to pull something off," he said.

For neo-pro Bernard Kohl, the 23 year-old will be using the race as preparation for his home tour, the Tour of Austria, which starts two days after the Tour de France begins in Fromentine on July 2. "Racing side-by-side with Vino and Klöden against Lance Armstrong is a great challenge for me," said Kohl.

In yesterday's prologue, the team's best-placed riders were Lara and Vinokourov, both finishing 14 seconds behind the winning time of George Hincapie.

Nothing major for CSC

Team CSC weren't expecting too much at the Dauphiné Libéré opener in Aix-les-Bains yesterday, so when their best rider Nicki Sørensen turned in a time good enough for 24th place, they weren't all that surprised.

"We weren't expecting anything major, but managed some OK times," said directeur sportif Alain Gallopin on team-csc.com. "Our primary goal with this race is to shape up for the Tour [de France], but hopefully we'll get a chance to make some results in a stage or two after the prologue."

MTB World Cup ends on sour note

By Rob Jones in Willingen

Unfortunately, the Willingen World Cup weekend ended on a sour note when the men refused to race the 4-Cross, and only eight women did - under duress. Anneke Beerten (Specialized) was the winner, but all riders on the podium turned their backs to the cameras.

The downhill, on the other hand, was a complete success. Anne-Caroline Chausson (COX) made her return to World Cup competition after recovering from a broken shoulder at the World Championships last fall, with a convincing win, while Greg Minnaar (Honda) took the leader's jersey in the men's category with his victory.

Peat out for a while yet

Steve Peat, the winner of the first round was a no-show, after breaking his shoulder two weeks ago during training for the British 4-Cross national championship. The injury required surgery, and he is expected to be out of action for at least 5 to 6 weeks.

Robbie McEwen online

After years of thinking about it, Australian champion Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has launched his own website, www.mcewenrobbie.com.

"I know it's kind of military style, last name first/first name last but someone else owns robbiemcewen.com," wrote Robbie in his first diary entry. "Most importantly I can keep everyone up to date with what's been going on in my races, there are downloads and wallpapers, you can see my program and heaps of pics and follow links to my favourite places and sponsors."

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