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Edited by Jeff Jones
Lance Armstrong has given an indication that he would like to break Miguel Indurain's record of five consecutive Tours de France. In an interview with Spanish newspaper Marca, Armstrong said that "I've been thinking about it, as I have three Tour wins and I believe that I can carry on the same for another two or three years, because I feel stronger than ever."
"Everybody can do the maths from there, but I don't see myself on the same level as Indurain, Merckx, Hinault or Anquetil. I have not raced with Merckx and the others, but I have with Indurain and for me he was unattainable, like a God. I can't compare myself with a cycling legend like him, because I do not consider myself a legend."
No-one has yet been able to win more than five Tours, and Armstrong is the best qualified of the current candidates with three wins (and no signs of slowing down). However, the same things were said about Jan Ullrich when he won his first Tour in 1997. It takes an incredible amount of talent, consistency, and some luck to stay at the top for so long.
If Armstrong should "lose" this year's Tour, he said that he might not continue in cycling. "Probably not," he said. "I hate losing at anything, whether it be cards, golf or whatever."
Armstrong still draws on his fight with cancer to motivate him. "It is my secret, the cancer, because nobody has been so near death," he said. "It is a big advantage."
In addition to this, there are his recently arrived twin daughters. "My two daughters have given me two new reasons to ride in addition to the motivation I have always had because of the love of competition, the team and all the work involved."
Marca also asked about the future of Roberto Heras, who may have to wait for his chance at winning the Tour de France. "I am waiting for great things from him, because he has great potential, but last year, a number of things happened: the signing was quite difficult, the new surroundings, the injuries. This year he has already signed, he knows the team. In addition, I think that this is the best place for Roberto to get the most out of his abilities, and it should not be forgotten that he is still young."
Armstrong was questioned about the departure of two of his faithful lieutenants, Tyler Hamilton (CSC-Tiscali) and Kevin Livingston, who went to Telekom in 2001. "Yes, they were my friends, but in the end everything was a question of money. The budget is limited and you want the best thing for your friends. If the other side offers double, then they must go. In neither of the cases was it a personal thing. In fact, Livingston went to Linda McCartney for a big offer of money."
However, Livingston is no longer a friend of Armstrong's, "Because he indicated after leaving that he did not want to continue being one. And that was after racing with him for 10 years...This is a cycling team, not a group of friends."
There has been a dramatic turnaround in the negotiations involving the repurchase of Paris-Nice, with the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announcing that it has successfully acquired the race from previous owner Laurent Fignon.
The negotiations were broken off between the two parties late last week, opening the way for others such as IMG-McCormack or the UCI's "Rainbow Foundation" to try and take control. However, Fignon requested another meeting with the ASO and the two parties came to an agreement.
In an official statement, the ASO said that "Despite the proximity of the race (March 10-17), which will actually make it difficult to organize, ASO will do its best to run the 2002 edition properly."
Fignon said that all the difficulties had been resolved between him and the ASO. He had bought the race in June 1999 from the Leulliot family, but has not been able to make it financially viable.
Spanish team iBanesto.com approaches the 2002 season without a real leader, but goes into the three grand tours prepared to fight hard for Spanish cycling.
Launched in Madrid yesterday, the new team of 26 riders will tackle the Giro, Tour de France, Vuelta and World Cups with two new riders and funding for another two years - although its budget has been re-examined following its lack of success since the days of the now retired Indurain (who won the Tour de France in 1995, lost it in 1996 and retired in 1997).
The team lost four riders - Juan Carlos Dominguez, Cesar Solaun, Portuguese Candido Barbosa and Alberto Benito, but recruited only two - Spanish champion, Ivan Gutierrez (ex-ONCE) and Juan Antonio Flecha (ex-Relax).
While the team is the top Spanish team and sits in sixth position on the UCI classification, none of its riders appears in the UCI top 25 (first rider Juan-Miguel Mercado is ranked 28th). As such, it no longer boasts the leaders of previous years, but sporting director Eusebio Unzué is nevertheless confident.
"Like last year, we will try to shine with our young people and our veterans. When one asks them (where they are) they can answer present ", Unzué said.
iBanesto.com was successful in last year's Giro (podium with Unai Osa and a stage victory with Pablo Lastras) and the Vuelta (teams classification, five stages, mountain jersey and points jersey and, the leaders want to secure a good performance in the Tour this year.
Veteran José-Maria Jimenez, 31, judged out of form and not selected for last year's Tour de France, has been told to prepare better this year. "This episode is forgotten. My number one priority will be the Tour de France," he said. "I will try to gain one or more stages in the mountains. Generally, it is too hard, there is too much time trialling, but why not also the mountain jersey."
iBanesto is also relying on the up and coming Russian Denis Menchov, 23 years and winner of the 2001 Tour de L'Avenir and Spaniard Francisco Mancebo, 24, best young rider in the 2000 Tour de France.
Unai Osa has been named for the Giro, but not the Tour. Unzué says he must still have patience before being able to take part in the Tour. The leader of the Vuelta will be Juan Miguel Mercado even if José-Maria Jimenez and Santiago Blanco will have cards to play.
New recruit Juan Antonio Flecha is a rider who likes one day races over difficult terrain. Like Osa, he will be using the ride to gain experience for the future.
Team manager José Miguel Echávarri told Cyclingnews that "The team will debut in the Mallorca Challenge on February 3 and will continue with the early season French races (Tour of the Mediterranean, Criterium International), as well as racing in Italy (Tirreno-Adriactico and Milan-San Remo) and of course many Spanish races together with a few in Portugal."
Full team roster
Former Dutch World Cyclo-cross champion Richard Groenendaal will be sanctioned by the UCI for making provocative remarks. Groenendaal was featured in an article in the Belgian Humo magazine, where he was quoted as saying "Belgium is the enemy...I will go [to the World Championships] with a group of supporters armed with baseball bats."
At a press conference in Hasselt (Belgium) on Thursday, UCI president Hein Verbruggen commented that "To say that is not very intelligent."
Verbruggen added that it was not Groenendaal's first offence of the season, after he hit a spectator during the Superprestige race in Diegem in December. The spectator had been jeering at Groenendaal, but Groenendaal's subsequent actions had "muddied the image of the sport of cycling".
"He was sanctioned by the race jury in Diegem, but it will not stop there. The Diegem business will be examined soon by the UCI disciplinary commission. The remarks which he has made now will be added to the file. The disciplinary commission will sanction him appropriately."
The program for the Monopoli 2003 Worlds will be presented at the Holiday Inn, Hasselt, 15 minutes outside the venue for the 2002-2002 Cyclo-cross World Championship, on Saturday, February 2, at 17:30. A delegation comprising Lord Mayor, Prof. Walter Laganà, Councillor Paolo Fiume and general manager, Nicola Carlone, will outline initiatives for and the technical and organisational aspects of the event, which will take place in Monopoli in Bari, Italy, on February 1-2, 2003.
A 20-minute film will show images of the province of Bari. There will also be sport-related images of Monopoli and the Cyclocross World Cup which was held there last November and "Farinella", a traditional figure of the Putignano carnival, will also make an appearance.
By Tommy Campbell in Putrajaya
The opening time trial of the 2002 Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi today is a brief 20.3 kilometres against the clock around the city of Putrajaya. To all intent and purposes the TT will not be a pushover, as the course is rather demanding because it is on highways, which are very exposed to the elements.
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For the first time in its history, all five continents will be represented in the 2002 10-day Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi, which starts with a hilly 20.3 km individual time trial in Putrajaya today .
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