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Lance Armstrong's press conference
On the rest day in Courchevel, with no transfers for the riders there were the obligatory press conferences to be given. The following are some extracts from Lance Armstrong's grilling by the media. This year, things seem to be a little different.
Q: How would you respond to your critics now about last year's win didn't have all (Ullrich & Pantani) the competition?
LA: They (the competition) weren't there last year; its a good thing that they're here this year. The objective is not to win by any given amount of time, any special amount of time...all you need (to win) is one second.
Q: Regarding Marco Pantani, what about after you gave away the victory on the Mont Ventoux? What's your reaction to that?
LA: You know, in English we say...I won't tell you what we say. But, umm, Elefantino, it's unfortunate that he is showing his true colors, because I like Marco. And I have a lot of respect for him. I felt like it was a gift (to Pantani) on the Ventoux. and I also feel like it was a mistake to give the gift. He's a great rider, he's a great champion and he's a great climber. But he wasn't the best man on Ventoux. And anybody that watched the race will know it. But in hindsight, over the last few days, his actions and words have been disappointing to me because I thought he had more class than that.
Q: What did you expect from Jan Ullrich in this Tour de France?
LA: To be completely honest, I had no idea what to expect because I've never raced against Jan Ullrich. I was in the '96 Tour De France but I wasn't here very long and in '97 and '98 I was absent. I had nothing to base my expectations on so I didn't know. I'm surprised at the advantage (7'26") in Courchevel on the rest day. I have a lot of respect for him, he's still a big champion and I still declare that he's the biggest talent in cycling. I think he has to be a little more serious in the winter; but that's not a negative comment, its just an observation.
Q: Your reaction to reports in a French newspaper that it you spoke more French, you would be more popular here.
LA: I saw that, yeah...I don' know; its not a popularity contest. But next year, I'll try to speak French. I promise.
Q: Where did you plan gain your time in the Tour?
LA: Well, most of the time came from one day in the mountains when the conditions were perfect for me, speaking about the advantage over Jan Ullrich. The rest of the time I gained on the other riders was largely from the team time trial and the opening time trial.
Q: What about your preparation compared to the other riders?
LA: I know we prepared very well...I have no idea what the other riders did. Uh, too much, too little...I don't know.
Jan Ullrich - what happened?
Currently lying second at 7'26 down, Telekom's Jan Ullrich's best hope for the Tour this year is to keep his second position from the likes of Joseba Beloki and Christophe Moreau. He has not managed to gain any time on Armstrong in the mountains and does not look like doing so tomorrow. He was touted as the better climber before the Tour but his lack of preparation has not seen him perform.
His team director, Walter Godefroot finally admitted that 10 weeks was not enough, even at 100 percent effort. "We are not seeing the best Ullrich - he can do more," said Godefroot. Ullrich did do quite well last winter, and was fit and slim at the Telekom training camp in Mallorca. However, he became ill following this and could not train or race, putting on a large amount of weight in the process.
The Midi Libre was his first race back on May 16 and he was a long way from his best there, eventually abandoning the last stage. He improved from then on, taking the lead at one point in the Tour de Suisse (5th overall) but his climbing was still suspect. The result will now be similar to 1998, when he was beaten by Marco Pantani in the Tour de France. Will we see the Ullrich of '97 again?
After receiving another hiding in the mountains on Monday, Ullrich admitted himself that his preparation was to blame. "My goal is to win the Tour in future. But I must be more professional when it comes to my preparation and train harder. For a top position, my past methods are enough. The error of being overweight in winter will not happen again - I want to enjoy cycling again. In the past few years it was really hard for me in spring, because I had to lose weight first and concentrate on my form afterward. I was always in debt."
He now has to be careful of Beloki, Moreau and Pantani lest he should lose his podium position. Ullrich is a great champion though - he showed it in 1998 the day after Pantani's famous Galibier attack, winning the next stage over the Col de la Madeleine with Pantani glued to his wheel. Similarly in 1999 when he was forced to miss the Tour altogether due to injury he came back to win the Vuelta and the World Time Trial Championship in Treviso. The Spanish Tour is once again in his agenda as well as the Olympics and the World's.
There are more pressing matters though. To hold his second position in the overall standings, he will have to make sure the aforementioned Pantani, Beloki, and Moreau gain little on him tomorrow in the final mountain stage. Then, he would dearly like to win stage 19, the individual time trial (Freibourg - Mulhouse) on German soil. This course is ideally suited to him, being nearly 60 km and flat, and his team manager Rudy Pevenage has every faith that he can win.
Festina will probably attack him as much as possible tomorrow and he is expecting a tough time. "I hope I will not lose anything to those two. Both are strong time trialists as well, but on my home turf I will surely have the advantage on Friday," said Ullrich.
When asked about his 1997 win, and how he rates himself now, Ullrich pointed out that he wasn't in optimum condition then either, having also been sick all spring. "The competition this year is stronger than at that time. The overall level of the Tour seems to me to be as high as ever."
He did not realise before the Tour how strong Lance Armstrong was, but after the stage to Hautacam he said he was surprised that the American did not have a larger lead. He is certainly not disappointed by his placing so far, "I still have every chance of making the final podium. Some had thought three weeks before the Tour that I would not be able to even ride along."
Beloki wants to move up
Festina's Joseba Beloki currently lies third in the overall standings, just two seconds behind Jan Ullrich and 7'28 behind Lance Armstrong. While he probably won't catch the man in Yellow, Beloki could well take second place. However the young Spaniard is simply happy to hold such a high position with less than a week to go until Paris.
"At the moment, I'm in a new situation and I am the first one to be surprised with my position," he said at a press conference today. "I'm have good morale, although I must bear the pressure of those who are at the top of the overall".
Beloki said that his worst moment of the Tour came in yesterday's climb up to Courchevel. "When I saw that Ullrich was dropped, but I couldn't hook onto Armstrong's group I was a little disappointed, but luckily I was able to recover," he said also praising team director Juan Fernandez for his program this year. "I am a very nervous person, and if it wasn't for my team director I would not have attacked on Mont Ventoux and I would now be 13th."
About tomorrow's stage to Morzine (and beyond), he said he would take it as it comes, as nothing is sure until the finish in Paris. "I don't know Paris, and it would be a great joy to arrive on Sunday with a podium position. But if it is not, we will still celebrate because the team is riding such a good Tour de France."
Impostors identified as Basque demonstrators
The three "cyclotourists" who performed the equivalent of streaking onto the field at the finish of Sunday's stage to Courchevel, have been identified as Basque pro-ETA demonstrators. Although the three were recognisable as impostors, they were each wearing a yellow, polka dot and a Kelme jersey . The rider in yellow had a slogan on his jersey with a message reading "Free Basque prisoners" and he managed to make it across the finish line before being stopped by gendarmes.
The three were arrested, but it has not been decided whether the organisers of the Tour will press charges. This is not the first time that Basque supporters have disrupted major events, including the Tour. However it was peaceful, but still dangerous for the riders who have more than their share of public proximity whilst riding up the mountains.
Etxebarria finally out
ONCE's David Etxebarría, was one of the abandonments during stage 15 from Briancon to Courchevel yesterday. Although he won two stages last year, but his Tour got off to a bad start in stage one when he crashed during the time trial in Futuroscope. Although he was badly bruised, he opted to continue to help his team win the fourth stage team time trial. However, the injuries and the difficulty of the race have caught up and he becomes the fifth Spaniard to withdraw. The others include Miguel Angel Peña, Iván Gutiérrez (ONCE), Angel Luis Casero (Festina) and Rafael Mateos (Polti).
Stage 16 - July 18: Courchevel - Morzine, 196.5km
It's the final mountain stage of Le Tour 2000 from Courchevel to Morzine across Savoie and Haut Savoie with four major climbs to scale. The category 1, 1650m Col des Saises (15.1km @ 6.5%), the easier category 2 1498m Col des Aravis (8.2km @ 6.4%), another category 1, 1613m Col de la Colombiere (11.8km @ 5.8%), with the category 3. hill, the Cote de Chatillion-sur-Cluses (5.1km @ 5.4%), then up to the final assault of the day, the steep Hors Categorie Col de Joux-Plane (11.8km @ 8.5%).
Taken one by one, these climbs are not so difficult, but with all 5 climbs packed into 135km of racing, a lot could happen on Stage 16 to change the outcome . Ullrich has already lost a lot of time and can likely lose time on the final steep climb of Joux-Plane. Watch Marco Pantani go for a hat-trick of stage wins.