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Lance Armstrong Press Conference, Saturday, July 27
Chris Henry, Cyclingnews.com
After his fourth stage victory in this year's Tour, today's individual time trial, Lance Armstrong took time to answer journalists' questions in the Tour de France press room. Questions once again focused on his race this year, his expectations for the future, and how he views his competition in the race. The following is a transcript of the question and answer session.
Q: Did you take many risks in today's time trial?
Lance Armstrong: I try not to take risks. That's the reason we came here six weeks ago to look at the course. Although, it felt very different today going 70kph than it did in training at 40kph. But I tried not to take risks on the corners on the descent, I stayed near the brakes, but at the same time I lost time in the first part so I tried not to go slower.
Q: Was important for you to win today to prove you're the strongest rider in the Tour?
LA: I think it's important to do a good ride, and do my best. I wasn't totally convinced that I could win, especially after the first time check I thought that perhaps Rumsas was really going strong and was super motivated at the opportunity to pass Beloki in the GC. But I tried to stay calm and come home strong. If I did my best and got to the finish line and got second today, it wouldn't be an empty Tour de France.
I felt better today than I did in Lorient, but both riders were (all out).
Q: Have you noticed more Americans coming to the Tour?
LA: Gradually, year after year, there's more and more Americans coming that I can notice. And also they come more towards the finish of the race, because perhaps they want to end up in Paris, which is a popular destination for a lot of Americans anyway. And there's occasionally people from Austin or from Texas. A lot of flags, a lot of Texas flags. But yeah, over the years there have been more and more people.
Q: People say this is probably the easiest Tour you've won. What is your opinion of that?
LA: The answer is the same that is was the other day. I don't mean to repeat myself, but in cycling when you have a great team, or a strong team, a consistent and complete team, it makes life easier. Quite frankly I think we had the best team in the race - the most complete team, the most motivated team, the most experienced team - and that helped me throughout the three weeks. In fact, their job was a lot harder than my job.
Q: Every rider that has won the Tour de France four times has gone on to win it five times. What would you like to leave behind as your mark on the sport?
LA: That's a hard one. Regardless one victory, two victories, four victories, however many, there has never been a victory by a cancer survivor. This is a fact that hopefully I'll be remembered for. I don't know. I get a lot of questions now about what I want to be remembered as in the history of cycling, what I want my legacy to be. I'm still an active cyclist, so it's difficult for me to say what it's going to be like in ten years or twenty years or fifty years. It's hard to relate to that. But I'll let the others decide, I'll let (the press) decide, I'll let the people decide.
Q: Is it fair to say today's stage win avenges the first time trial?
LA: No. I was disappointed after the first time trial, as I said. But I wasn't out for revenge and I wasn't angry that people said, "oh look, he's lost his skills in the time trial, he's lost his ability to win the big time trials or the long time trials in the Tour de France." I wasn't out for any sort of vengeance.
Q: How much smarter do you think you are now in running this race than when you first won the Tour de France. How far have you come mentally?
LA: I don't know that this event necessarily makes you any smarter. Three weeks of this can't be good for the brain cells, year in and year out. The experience helps a lot. I can remember in 1999 being so nervous every day, and worried that I would lost the race in an instant, and I don't have those fears any more. ,p> Perhaps many things are different. I'm experienced, I have the experience of having a great team, and knowing that if I was in a crisis, they would help me. I didn't have that, and I couldn't fall back on that in 1999. Perhaps you look smarter, and you feel smarter, but I don't know. Like any sporting event, it really helps to have experience.
Q: This is your 4th consecutive Tour victory. Do you realize how big it is to win four times in a row?
LA: I'm extremely happy to win. It's what I devote the entire year to, so basically this is what I devote my life to. If I lost this race, I would be extremely disappointed - much more disappointed than anybody knows. I haven't had that feeling the last four years. I've been lucky enough to win, so I don't know what that would feel like. It would be pretty devastating, so it's an honor and it makes me happy to be able to come and win again. But it's hard to know the significance of it, in the world, or in the world of sport, or in the world of cycling. I just live for the moment, and live for the year.
Q: What did you think of the news that Kevin Livingston is retiring?
LA: I'm not allowed to bring my computer to the Tour de France, so I snuck into Hincapie's room last night and looked on his computer, and I saw it on there. I was surprised. I wasn't quite sure that it was serious; I thought maybe it was a joke, or somebody just heard that and put it up. But it doesn't feel like the right choice to me, because Kevin is a fantastic rider. He's a person that I know very well, extremely well, and somebody that I still have a lot of affection for. He's a great kid, and I think he still has a lot of years and a lot of kilometres in him.
I don't know what he's thinking, I don't know exactly why he wants to stop. Obviously it's something to do with wanting to spend time with his family, which I understand and respect. But in the end I don't think he made the right decision to leave US Postal. I think we had a good thing here, it was a quick decision and a financial decision; those never end up being the best decisions. If he is indeed going to retire, I wish him well. We live in the same town so I'm sure our paths will cross. But I was surprised, very surprised.
Q: Has this race and this generation of cyclists pulled the best out of you? Have you been pushed to your limit ever?
LA: I think the other competitors pulled the best out of me and this team. But at the end of the day, I think, at least speaking for myself, I push myself enough to prepare for the event. As I've said many times, it's my passion, it's what I like to do, I love to prepare for this event and to work hard. The other stuff really helps more in the race itself. There are things you read or things you hear that are interesting or are motivating, it certainly helps in a race. But in February and in March and in April, you don't hear those things. It's all about the athlete, and what they want to do. Are they motivated? Do they want to rise to this occasion?
Is there more in the tank? I don't know. I think I'm using just about everything I have.
Q: How much responsibility does Johan Bruyneel have in your victories?
LA: He has a lot of responsibility. I owe Johan a lot, from a long time ago, for believing in me and telling me that I could indeed win the Tour de France. But that happened a long time ago, and that might be just one event that helped. Johan is a constant presence in my life. Constant. We talk three or four times a day, whether it's in June or whether it's in January. We talk all the time. He is a fanatic, just like I am. We love what we do, we love this sport, we love this event we love this team... we're both very similar. I can't imagine doing it without him.
Q: Do you appreciate how much having survived cancer has changed you physically and allowed you to become a different rider and eventually win the Tour?
LA: Of course. It's what I've always talked about. Physically, mentally, emotionally, the illness changed me as a person, as an athlete. It was an invaluable experience. It was a good thing for me.
Q: What do you think of Raimondas Rumsas for the future?
LA: I don't know if he's done the Tour de France before, but he's never had a bad day, he never cracked in the mountains, he's very consistent. Quite frankly, if we did not have the team time trial, he would be second in Paris. That's in a whole different league. I also don't know exactly how old he is, but he's certainly a threat for the future because he's a complete rider; he can time trial, he can climb. Again, if we took out the two and a half minutes he lost in the team time trial, the complexion of the race would have changed.
Q: What do you think about ONCE's tactics, and the announcements that the team was going to attack you throughout the race?
LA: Manolo definitely announced his ambitions before the Tour. I think he really encouraged his athletes to believe in those ambitions, and they talked about that. Quite frankly, I don't know that that's the best idea for a three week bike race. So the ambitions and the talk started before, the talk was kept up in the first week and in the first ten days. And as we all know, this is a three week bike race. Quite honestly, I love to read those things. Works well for me, works well for my motivation, works well for the team's motivation. But let's all keep in mind that it's twenty one stages. It's a long time...
Q: Last year after the Tour you were asked how you ranked with Anquetil, Merckx, or Hinault. You gave a yes/no answer. How do you feel this year?
LA: A yes and no answer... I think I said last year that in this era of cycling, I don't think there is a patron, or it's possible to have one. The field is too deep. Cycling is different now than it was when Bernard Hinault raced, or when raced Eddy raced, or when Anquetil raced. It's very different. It's not easy to control 180 guys, or when it dwindles to 160 or 150. You be proclaimed the patron, but you can't control them if their team is in need of a stage win, and you say let's take it easy. They're going to attack. They don't care what you say. That's fine; that's sport, and this is big time cycling now. There's pressure from the sponsor, pressure from the team, pressure from the director. We could have Bernard Hinault back in the race, they wouldn't listen to him either. They wouldn't listen to Eddy Merckx. Not in the Tour de France. It may be different in the Giro, maybe in other races, but not in the Tour.
Q: Will you turn the page on this Tour after Sunday night, once you see your wife and children?
LA: That's hard to say. Ask me Monday. Certainly in some ways, yes the race is finished, and the book will be closed because the stress and the pressure of this year is finished. I love the race, and I savor it for some time. I think about the special moments in the off season, and in the late summer. I really cherish coming here and trying to win, and hopefully winning.
Q: Can you tell us something about your way of communicating during the Tour de France. Dr. Ferrari was commenting on your state of mind, so that indicates you were in contact with him? Are you telephoning throughout Europe from the saddle?
LA: The answer is no, I don't call from the saddle, but the answer is yes, I do own a telephone.
Q: Eddy Merckx never liked to give stages away, Miguel Indurain didn't seem to care. You give the impression that you do want to win them, but in the Alps you don't really go for it. Is that intentional?
LA: They were special circumstances. When the breaks go early and they get five minutes or seven minutes or ten minutes, it's hard on the team to control that. Especially in the last week. It would be short-sighted of me to say, "ok guys, you have to ride your ass off and take back those ten minutes, because I want to win this stage."
When you have a three or four minute lead on the classification, I don't think that's the best tactic. Of course it's nice to win a stage like La Plagne or the Ventoux, but I won't risk killing the team in order to do that.
Q: What have been the moments you will savor from this year's Tour?
LA: The stage victories, starting off well in Luxembourg... that was a great day. I felt great, and it was a course that had a lot of character, in my opinion. We sort of got desperate in the second half of the race, and Floyd Landis brought his ZZ Top Greatest Hits cd, so in the bus every morning we would put on this old Texas rock and roll, and turn it up as loud as we could. We had these Spanish guys and a Czech guy and a Russian saying, "who the hell is ZZ Top?"
All these old classic songs like Cheap Sunglasses and Pearl Necklass and Nationwide... She's Got Legs... Viva Las Vegas... Quite frankly, that's what this team is about. We can do really goofy stuff like that and have a blast, and laugh... and again, Roberto Heras saying, "who is ZZ Top? Do we have to listen to this?" But I'll take that away with me. It sounds corny, but now every time I hear a ZZ Top song I'll think about this Tour de France and this team.
Q: Can you comment on the Colombian cyclists Santiago Botero and your teammate Victor Hugo Pena?
LA: One of them I know very well, and one of them I don't know very well, only in the race. Botero is, I'll start with him, a complete rider. He can climb, he can time trial, his only problem is sometimes he has a bad day. Very big potential, and a big force in cycling. Pena is a great teammate, somebody who always has a smile on his face, always willing to work hard, always willing to try hard. Even when he's sick or has a knee problem, he's always willing to kill himself for the team. He's a very good friend of mine, a guy that (like the other guys) I hope to ride two more years with.
Q: What is missing from the other teams?
LA: It's impossible to answer. It would be best to start with the leader of the team, the direction of the team, manager of the team, and it trickles down from there. It's hard to win the Tour de France, but it's not hard to figure out how. You need the director, you need the leader, you need climbers, you need rouleurs.
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