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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Latest Cycling News for June 28, 2005

Edited by Anthony Tan

Ullrich: "A change of guard long overdue"

"A change of guard is long overdue," Ullrich told Germany's Men's Health magazine when asked about the odds of beating six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

"If I look at the past, I think I could have often had a better result than I ended up having. I can't afford to squander any more chances. I don't want to look back in 10 years and see that I beat myself in the Tour de France in my best years because I did something wrong."

So far this year, it appears the 31 year-old has done everything right, watching what he ate in the off-season, riding a select handful of races up till now, and only exerting himself when the situation demanded it. However, in his last race at the Tour de Suisse, Ullrich's form was still a little off, even though he won a time trial stage and finished third overall.

"Lance has dominated the Tour for the last six years and whoever beats him is going to be the greatest," Ullrich said. "A true sportsman always wants to beat the best. This year's duel will be the most exciting because this is his last Tour.

"He's dominated the race for the last six years and broken the records of the century," he told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "I want to beat the best to be the best of the best. That's my motivation - this is the last chance."

While local headlines on Ullrich this week have been dominated by his recently announced relationship with new girlfriend, Sara Steinhauser, who he says is "head over heels in love" with, the 1997 Tour winner also admitted to making some mistakes in the past.

"I didn't know any better, I didn't have the experience," he said. "I've grown up. Only now do I see the mistakes that I made earlier. I was young and foolish - just not a 100 percent professional as [I am] now."

Vino more or less 100 percent

Soloing across the line to take his first elite national road championship victory in Almaty last Sunday, Alexandre Vinokourov's quick trip back home to Kazakhstan proved very useful indeed. Like numerous other national champions, Sunday, July 3 - the first road stage of the Tour de France from Challans to Les Essarts - will be the first opportunity for him to show off his newfound champion's jersey.

After a very solid Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, the 31 year-old said he wanted to ride the Kazakhstan national championships as his final warm-up before the Tour, where he and Andreas Klöden will arguably be Jan Ullrich's most valuable team-mates in the German's quest for a second overall title.

"I am satisfied with how things have turned out," Vinokourov said on the team's website, t-mobile-team.com, about his season to date.

"My form is as good as it was in 2003 [Tour de France] when I finished third in Paris. It is more or less 100 percent. Missing out last year through injury was a bitter blow for me; I have really prepared hard and made improvements recently to my time trialling. I did a lot of tests on the track and in the wind tunnel recently to tweak my position on the bike, improve my aerodynamics and hopefully save seconds in the Tour's key TT stages."

Although these last words sound like he is thinking about the possibility of victory himself, Vinokourov denied any thoughts of personal ambitions - "I don't have individual objectives" - and said he won't be there to ride his own race, but to ride for the team. However, he added when team tactics allows it, he will take his chances to go for a stage win, slightly contradicting his earlier statement.

The winner of this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège also mentioned he's worked extremely hard on improving his ability in the mountains, evidenced on the fourth stage of the Dauphiné Libéré to Le Mont Ventoux, which he won in brilliant fashion. "I've worked a lot more on [climbing] this year than in previous years. I did a training camp at 2000 metres altitude in Kazakhstan for 10 days, then I spent some time in Tenerife in the Canary Islands."

So then, is the T-Mobile team for the 2005 Tour de France one that can beat Armstrong? Vino gave a yes and no answer, but the response leans more towards the latter.

"We are going there with the intention of turning the heat on Armstrong and hopefully force him to crack. But the guy is exceptionally strong and motivated; it is hard to imagine him cracking - he will be in top form. The key is to attack Armstrong, but that is easier said than done. Nevertheless, that is what we will try to do."

Regarding the other contenders vying for the title, Vinokourov names Ivan Basso (Team CSC) and Floyd Landis (Phonak) as riders to watch, with Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) his outside pick - "maybe he will be up there when push comes to shove," he said.

Although admitting to have a number of offers on the table for the 2006 season, where it was most recently reported that French squad Cofidis appears a likely destination, Vinokourov chose not to elaborate too much on his immediate future, but did say he will make a decision after the Tour de France. "The truth is that I am happy to ride for T-Mobile. It has worked well for me, but after the Tour I will sit down and consider my future."

Bak back to his best

Team CSC's dominant riding at the Danish road championships last Sunday, where Lars Ytting Bak, Lars Michaelsen and Matti Breschel took the first three places, naturally delighted their Danish team manager Bjarne Riis - even more so when he heard Frank Schleck had won his national championship in Luxembourg that same afternoon.

"We had a fantastic race, and Lars finished it off in a really impressive way. He's a rider with great potential, which we could all see for ourselves today," said Riis on team-csc.com.

"Our tactics worked out and I must admit, I'm surprised that we also succeeded in a clean sweep of the podium. We knew it would be hard, but it worked out perfectly; and if the break was to hold, [Michael] Blaudzun and Bak [who were in the eight-man break] had a chance of making it all the way on their own."

Added 25 year-old Bak, whose only victory until Sunday was a stage of the Tour of Luxembourg last year: "I'm totally happy, and it's definitely one of the biggest moments in my career so far.

"Towards the end out there, I was a little nervous that someone would outsprint me if we were still four guys at the finish, so I took the chance and attacked. It was tough in that last lap, but when I managed to escape, I knew I'd be able to last all the way home. I would like to thank the whole team for keeping things perfectly under control behind me. They all played a huge part in my victory. This jersey means the world to me, and it comes at a perfect time after a season, where I've been close but lacked that last bit to succeed," he said.

Aldag turns TV journo in July

Breaking his arm in a crash at Flèche Wallonne on April 20, T-Mobile's Rolf Aldag made his return to racing at the recent Tour de Suisse, his first race back after almost two months out of competition. The 36 year-old cycling veteran picked one of the most difficult events to get back into the swing of things, but stuck it out all the way to the finish in Ulrichen to be one of only 92 finishers, although describing the stage as "a real killer".

"I felt all along that if I could get over the first easier climbs, then I would also make it over the tougher Alpine climbs," said Aldag on t-mobile-team.com.

A hardened professional of 14 years in the peloton, the last 12 seasons spent with his current team and 10 Tours de France under his belt, Aldag won't be part of the T-Mobile roster for this year's Tour. Instead, he will use his experience in a different capacity at La Grand Boucle, where he will be German public TV station ZDF's resident expert cycling analyst, providing live commentary each day.

"I am looking forward to this. I have ridden ten Tours as a professional cyclist, now I will be looking at the Tour from a completely different perspective," said Aldag.

However, being on television isn't something altogether foreign for the German, besides having being filmed as a rider; he was one of the stars in the recently released cycling film Höllentour (Hell on Wheels), produced by German film-maker and Academy Award-winner, Pepe Danquart.

Lance's legacies

On July 24, as Lance Armstrong rolls across the Champs Elysées one final time as a professional cyclist, the 33 year-old American will leave a number of legacies behind him, and will no doubt continue to pursue new ones.

Back home in the States, effects of his popularity have undoubtedly made a significant impact on the number of cyclists taking up the sport, or launching themselves into road racing. USA Cycling reports the number of registered road racers has increased from 28,300 in 1999 - Armstrong's first Tour win - to 31,300 in 2005.

"Greg LeMond opened the door for American cyclists in Europe in the '80s," said USA Cycling spokesperson Andy Lee to Reuters. "Since LeMond opened that door, Lance has blown it off its hinges and everyone else is going through now."

Likewise, Armstrong's legacy for cancer patients will continue to be felt long after his retirement, with the foundation he set up in 1997 (the Lance Armstrong Foundation or LAF) likely to gain even greater momentum after he hangs up the race wheels, as he will have more time to devote to his cancer-related projects. The yellow Livestrong wristbands, intended to raise $6,000,000 for the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 2004, have exceeded initial expectations ten-fold, with more than 50 million sold to date.

Said Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society: "Lance has become a national, and an international, rallying point around survivorship.

"He has even begun to impact the U.S. government. He has the government looking at survivorship. When a cancer patient sees someone like Lance Armstrong, I personally believe it sends a real signal of hope to the cancer patient and tends to diminish the fear... that the cancer might come back."

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