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Countdown To Le Tour: Lance Armstrong speaks to Tim Maloney about 2002 Preparation, Competition and the USPS Doping Dossier
Only three riders have ever won both the difficult and prestigious French stage races Grand Prix Midi-Libré and Criterium Dauphiné Libéré in the same year. 31 years ago, it was Eddy "Cannibal" Merckx who devoured both, while Big Mig Indurain also did the double in 1995, on his way to his 4th consecutive Tour De France victory.
Lance Armstrong has now joined that exclusive club that opened a few months before his birth, dominating the hors-categorie Dauphiné Libéré including a magnificent victory on Stage 6 from Albertville to Morzine, conquering the terrible climb of "that bastard" Joux Plane that laid him low two years ago in the Tour. With less than three weeks to go to his attempt to win a fourth consecutive Tour De France, a feat only Jacques Anquetil (1961-64), Eddy Merckx (1969-72) and Miguel Indurain (1991-94) have achieved, Armstrong granted an insightful, interesting pre-Tour interview to Cyclingnews.
Cyclingnews: Lance, did the snow on the mountain passes in the Alps and Pyrenees ever melt enough for the team training camps?
Lance Armstrong: We attempted the Pyrenees (after Amstel Gold) but we got caught in a snowstorm. So that didn't work; we ended up making a one-day trip to Plateau de Beille. In a straight line, it's not very far from Gerona; the drive ended up being switchback after switchback to get there but we did it.
Then we did the Alps with the guys after Midi-Libre. Four days; we did Midi-Libre for five days and that very next day, we did Ventoux, just a short day, just the Ventoux. And the three Alpine days (Stages 16, 17 and 18 in the '02 TDF). The the morning of the prologue here (Dauphiné-Libere), we went to Macon to see the final time trial."
We've seen most critical things...we haven't seen the team trial yet and I don't know that we will because it's in a hard place to get to. Last year, we tried to go (to the Tour de France TTT course) with 9 or 10 guys and logistically, it was a nightmare.
CN: How does your pre-race training camp and stage preview compare with last year's lead up to the Tour?
LA: We will preview the prologue (in Luxembourg) when we get there, we've seen to Lorient (for St. ITT), we know Aubisque and La Mongie, Plateau de Beille and then the four days we did in the Alps and the final TT.
CN: So mentally, you feel you have a good focus on the 2002 Tour De France?
LA: Yeah; the critical part - the first week always has something - actually, this year it's longer, the first 10 days, it's impossible to know those stages.
CN: What's your take on the first long TT stage in Brittany?
LA: It's...uhhh...rolling at the most...actually predominately flat. The final 20-25k is all along the coast, where the trees grow like that (Lance motions with his hand to indicate 45 degree angle). It's a really rugged coastline, a really beautiful finale and the people there are just crazy for cycling. It's not far from Plouay, (home of GP Ouest France) I've never really raced there and so, when we went there, you could see that they were fans of cycling. It's nice to see. I rode the course twice and when we went by, people would step out of the bar or whatever. But if it's windy, it's gonna be a hard finish and if you do the first part really hard and the wind picks up on the coast, you'll be suffering.
CN: With the Dauphiné Libéré and Midi-Libre, you'll be adding two of the most important French stage races to your palmares. According to the reports, the last few stages of Midi-Libre were quite challenging for you and USPS to defend your race leaders jersey.
LA: Yeah, the last day, ONCE was aggressive. They tried a lot the last day; they had the luxury of having a lot of guys (well placed) on the classification, they tried sending them away.
CN: ONCE managed to isolate you on the final climb?
LA: About the last half - I was with Roberto (Heras) up until about halfway, but the last part was with three or four ONCE's. It wasn't a very difficult climb; very easy to stay on the wheel so it was tough for me to attack and get away, but at the same time, it was tough for them to attack and get away. I just realized for 5 or 6 or 7 k's here, I'll just cover every attack immediately; that's the best tactic. To immediately get on the wheel. They get frustrated and you have to make the effort to cover the move, but at the same time, everybody else has to make an acceleration too, so...ONCE will be tough in July.
CN: Are you satisfied with these two wins in the Dauphiné Libéré and Midi-Libre?
LA: Oh, I mean, it's always nice to win - it's satisfying, especially when you see the team being so strong. The team was strong in Midi-Libre, but they were especially strong here (Dauphiné Libéré); clearly the strongest team here. The most balanced, the most complete, the most motivated - it's a good sign! Everybody talks about the next race, the Tour and the other teams...it's gonna be hard to rattle this team, I think.
CN: Have you read the comments?
LA: I read 'em all...
CN: From Belda?
LA: All of 'em.
CN: Kelme DS Vicente Belda said recently that, "Armstrong isn't looking as strong as he as in the past. He will have a more difficult time than he's had in the mountains than before, but he's still the favourite)." (for the TdF).
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) was quoted in Spain's MARCA sports newspaper as saying, "Armstrong is human, and just like happened to Indurain, at some point somebody will beat him. We go to the Tour with these goals, realizing that (Armstrong) is human and that he can be beat."
LA: Keep in mind that Belda's the one who two years ago said I must be taking testosterone because I have no balls. In light of that, I don't put much stock in his commentary. ONCE...Manolo (Saiz) the director tries to be big motivator and he is. He likes to get his guys fired up, give them morale, give them encouragement which is what his job is, and I think at times, (Saiz) does a very good job of that.
But, you know, (TDF) is anybody's race really. And if you go with one leader or you go with four of five, it's all different strategies. Now, Manolo has never proven in recent history that he can direct and win a three week tour, especially the Tour De France, going back to '94, '95. In '95, (ONCE) tried to annihilate the Tour and beat Indurain. Johan (Bruyneel) was on that team; he speaks from direct experience and (the ONCE strategy) didn't work. (Saiz) wears down the riders after 10 or 12 days; they just crack.
It's great to give them morale in June but - again, it's anybody's race; we want to win, I want to win, so - you know! (laughs) For sure, I'm conscious of ONCE's depth. I don't know who they are taking, but you can imagine: Beloki, Galdeano, Olano, Jaksche, Serrano, Azevedo, Zarrabeitia...it's a deep team. You don't just let those guys float up the road for fifteen minutes.
CN: What is you program from the conclusion of the Dauphiné Libéré until the Tour?
LA: Just training and relaxing. It feels like I need to just relax, be with my family, be with my kids - still focus on training and do all of those things but off the bike, absolutely soak up my time with them. When you leave for three weeks...you miss 'em...like now, I've been gone for a week and I miss 'em like crazy. So I have to take full advantage of my two or three weeks (with my family) now.
CN: Fire up the barbecue maybe and cook some burgers?
LA: (Laughs) No burgers now...(laughs again) salad!
CN: Lance, you seem more relaxed this year - not overly confident but more self confident that your program, your template for winning the TDF is right on track.
LA: I can't think of many things that are troubling me - the team is great, I feel good, I like the (TDF) course, everybody's healthy...so I'm in a good state of mind for working, for being motivated and for trying to win again. So that makes me more relaxed. Now I still stress about the things that can happen, other teams, other riders...bad days. You can still crack on the Ventoux and lose 15 minutes. No matter how good you are. If you are not smart, if you're not aware and not consistent. So that little bit of nerve, I think, still keeps me sharp.
CN: What is your take on the recent news coming from France on Paris prosecutor François Franchy keeping the USPS dossier open.
LA: They're trying to set a record for the longest investigation known to man. probably by French standards, it's a pretty short investigation, at least we've been told. I read recently that (Paris Prosecutor François Franchy, head of the "fight against non-financial organized crime" bureau) said that this would be closed in a matter of weeks.
The inconsistency on the part of the prosecutor is amazing. He was quoted in the Le Monde piece in early June (where Prosecutor Franchy said the investigation would be closed soon, but not before the Tour De France was over), we responded, which nobody in France picked up, for what ever reason, and he was quoted again, in a separate AFP piece because his first quotes were in the Le Monde story.
He was then quoted by AFP that the investigation will be closed in a matter of weeks, probably not before the Tour is over and then he goes on to say that Lance Armstrong has been uncooperative, that we weren't allowed to do (tests) and so...I mean, it's an absolute joke! A total joke. We've been totally cooperative. And it got to the point - lemme give you some background here - it got to the point where these investigators were calling Johan (Bruyneel) on his cellphone and saying 'hey, can you bring the guys down to the lab?' This happened in the last 6 months, in a totally informal, not going through the attorneys, not going through the proper channels...just calling up!
When they launched the case, they said 'we're going to appoint three experts', the three most knowledgeable, best known doping experts in France. They appointed three; the guy from Chatenay-Malabray, the big lab, a guy named Pepin and another expert. The first and the last (doping experts) looked at the results and said 'absolutely clean, we're finished, case closed.'
Pepin, on the other hand, said 'yes they're clean but I can't believe it.' This was response. So he encouraged the judge and the prosecutor to keep going. And he kept saying 'look, if these guys would just come to my lab, I could run a battery of tests and we'll find something.'
They wanted us (USPS) to just go to Pepin's lab. Why would we subject ourselves, when had no reason to? We've given blood (samples), we've given urine (samples), we've given testimony, we've given everything. Why go to his lab, do a bunch of tests so this guy can say 'ehhh'? (Armstrong signifies doubt)
Tell me this...let's say somebody's house has been broken and they think you did it, they think Tim Maloney did it. So you're a suspect. They go to your house and say, 'Tim, we would like to come inside and look for the things that are missing, look for the stolen items. You say 'no, you can't come in my house' and they say, 'well, ok' and they leave and they say 'we can't investigate, we can't prosecute because he won't let us come in his house.' That's unheard of! If you have such a (good) case...
CN: You go to a judge with your proof and get a search warrant.
LA: Yeah! And in this case, for (French authorities) them to say 'Lance Armstrong won't cooperate so we have to close the case', that's an absolute joke! Let's also talk about the cover of the dossier...
CN: Darren Tullet (Bloomberg) wrote a piece for Cyclingnews where he mentioned that.
LA: Right; our team doctor goes to testify, to Paris. There were two investigators, chests puffed out, in this disorganized office. They pull out this dossier that according to our doctor is about a foot thick and on the cover is the traditional shot of the team riding down the Champs-Elysees and they found another picture of a big syringe and taped it on top of me, sticking me right in the ass. That's their idea of an ethical, proper, professional investigation. Now if that's not a witch hunt, I don't know what is! And so Mr. Franchy has said, twelve months ago, 'the investigation will close soon'. He said that, almost a year ago. It's still open...he now says, at least last week, 'the investigation will close soon'. And then he says the investigation will close a a few weeks...the inconsistency...c'mon, it's a joke.
CN: Have you been in contact with Tyler since the Giro ended?
LA: Via email.
CN: You guys haven't been in Girona at the same time?
LA: No...what a ride! I mean now, with the news about having a broken shoulder bone...Tyler's always been tough though with crashes. He's been unfortunate with crashes but he always hangs in there, always rides on. He may have that, you know that gauze, webbing, everything all over his arms but he doesn't quit. He's a great rider.
CN: How about your former teammate on the Plano East High School Cross Country team Chann McRae winning the USPRO championships?
LA: I was getting updates at the night of the Dauphiné prologue from Och...it's good for Chann; he's had a rough year, hasn't felt very good, then he had the crash (at 4 Days of Dunkirk) and broke his arm. But it doesn't surprise me that he won. He's another tough guy; when he needs to ride good, he does. I'm looking forward to seeing him again. He worked for the team all day, he worked for George and then he won the race!
You know, I feel pretty strongly that the American championships should be just Americans. We have enough pros now; we have enough teams, we have enough athletes. We don't need an open race. That's my opinion. And also I don't think it should be in the same place every year. The (Manayunk) Wall is beautiful, but the race is not hard enough. Like every other (championship) it (American championships) should move around every year; the precedent is what do they do in France, in Belgium...it changes every year and it's just Italians, just Spanish, just Belgians. We should probably try to do that. 15 years ago when there were 20 professionals in America, let's have an open race. It's not like that any more. It should absolutely be closed. The guy that crosses the line (first) should really be the American champion.
Time ran out on our one on one with Armstrong, as he & his USPS team-mates had a team meeting prior to the last stage of the Dauphiné Libéré, after which Armstrong returned to his European home in Girona, Spain for his final preparations for his fourth consecutive Tour De France win.
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