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Tour News for July 6
Armstrong hopes for a good contest
Lance Armstrong, while not exactly playing down his chances of winning, is not convinced that he's the number one favourite. "I disagree...I think there are a lot of guys that are just as strong as me," he said in Dunkirk.
His most often spoken about rival is Jan Ullrich (Telekom), whose battles with his weight have been on and off for the past three years. While no-one could actually call Ullrich fat, he goes into the Tour a whole 8 kilos heavier than Armstrong (74 compared with 66 kg). The bar has been lowered on both sides, so to speak.
"Jan Ullrich is a fantastic rider," added Armstrong. "He's strong, he's talented. I think he's in shape. He's a favorite."
Ullrich commented about Armstrong that "I assume he will be even better this year than last year...If it doesn't work out this time, then it probably won't ever."
Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo) could certainly be counted amongst the favourites for this year's Tour de France, all things being right with the former world number one. However, since his crash in the first stage of the Giro d'Italia, Casagrande's planned recovery and re-focus for the TdF has not been smooth.
He commented before tomorrow's prologue start in Dunkirk that "We'll have to see how it goes day by day," and that the first week of the Tour will definitely be the hardest for him.
The last race he rode was the Route du Sud, a tough four day race in France that finished with a stage to the Plateau de Beille, a fierce climb in the Pyrenees that was used in the 1998 Tour. Casagrande won that stage and finished fourth on GC - not bad for a first hit out back from a fractured arm.
"I was short of competition and I suffered during the first days," said Casagrande to Darren Tulett of Bloomberg News. "It went well in the mountains though and I felt good after the race. Then I had another setback, missing the national championships because of a gastroenteritis. I couldn't train for three days and ate nothing for two days, you lose your strength."
Can he come back for the Tour? "When I finished sixth in the 1997 Tour de France, I began to realize that I could figure in the major tours. I lost a lot of weight and improved in the mountains. I also matured physically. In 1999 I won the Tour of Switzerland and was second in the Giro - - that showed me I could win a three-week race."
If he can survive the first week without losing too much time in the individual and team time trials, then "From the Alpe d'Huez onwards it should be more suited to my style. Anyway, after the Giro, the only way is up."
Boardman holds the record
With a fast start expected tomorrow in the pleasantly warm seaside town of Dunkirk, some riders will be tilting at the record Tour de France average speed for a prologue of 55.152 km/h. Chris Boardman's mark was impressive when it was set in 1994 in Lille over a 7.2 kilometre parcours. Tomorrow, anything can happen as all the favourites are keyed up for their chance to start the Tour in yellow.
Sebastien Talbardon (BigMat) is the first rider to set off at 1600 CEST (0000 Australian East Coast/1000 USA East coast/0700 USA West coast). Then riders will set off at one minute intervals until Lance Armstrong leaves at 1908 CEST.
Others to watch in the prologue include Jan Ullrich (1907), Joseba Beloki (1906), Christophe Moreau (1905), David Millar (1901), Stuart O'Grady (1858), Laurent Jalabert (1855), Didier Rous (1852), Brad McGee (1850), Rik Verbrugghe (1717) and Tyler Hamilton (1641).
Of course, we will be covering the prologue live from start to finish on Cyclingnews, and every stage of the Tour thereafter.
O'Grady jumps the gun and gets the girl
Australian rider and TdF green jersey contender Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) has announced his engagement to Anne-Marie Clifford, also of Adelaide, South Australia.
O'Grady met Ms Clifford while she was working as a "tour host" during the 2000 edition of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, Australia's largest road race held in January each year. The couple met on several occasions during the 2000 JCTDU, given that O'Grady won the event and Ms Clifford's role as a tour host made the podium somewhat more attractive for riders and male followers of the sport (see our letters section for the latest discussion on the role of podium persons).
Apparently O'Grady had planned to pop the question on July 31, Ms Clifford's 21st birthday, but decided to make his move over a romantic dinner in Toulouse, his adopted French town while living in Europe. Cyclingnews understands that despite O'Grady not actually being able to present his potential fiancee with the engagement ring - which was still carefully hidden in his moto-cross boot at home - his blonde girlfriend accepted. As every good sprinter knows, sometimes you just know when the time is right to make a move.
Cyclingnews sends the happy couple its best wishes for the future.