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Tour de France News for July 4, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Armstrong respects Le Tour

Lance Armstrong
Photo: © AFP
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Defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was in fine form during his pre-race press conference in Paris on late Thursday afternoon. The US Postal-Berry Floor captain was relaxed as he fielded questions from the world's media, just two days before he sets off on his quest to win the centenary Tour de France. "I can't think of a better way to spend the month of July," said Armstrong, who has obviously lost none of his enthusiasm for the Tour, the race that means the most to him.

"To me it represents a very old, traditional sporting event that is loved the world over. The race has everything: difficulty, joy, excitement and death, which I've seen of course," said Armstrong.

Although he is the defending champion, Armstrong will likely not be starting in the yellow jersey in the prologue, despite being allowed to according to the Tour rules. Armstrong has a respect for the tradition of the yellow jersey, especially this year when it has Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange's initials printed on it. "I think like last year, I should start in the team jersey, and hopefully earn the yellow jersey after that," he said.

Armstrong seems to have earned the respect of the people, including the French public. He was asked, 'Do you have to do more to earn their love?'. "I think you can always do more to win somebody's love," was the response. "I show up prepared, I show up motivated, because I love it."

In reference to American cycling's popularity and his place in the sport, Armstrong said that "Cycling has become truly a global sport. Perhaps the people from the furthest places like Australia, South Africa and America have to work the hardest to be accepted. I can't imagine a time when American cycling has been this deep."

The US Postal leader was not pressed to comment too much on his rivals, although one man whose name was put forward was the runner up of the last two years, Joseba Beloki. "I typically don't say much about Beloki because he says enough about himself," Armstrong quipped. As for former teammate Tyler Hamilton (CSC), Armstrong repeated what he has always said, that his compatriot is a talented rider and US Postal expects big things him and the team of Bjarne Riis.

The theme of the press conference was generally one of the big picture. Noting that Armstrong has become a considerably bigger figure in the sport, and in the world, since his first win in 1999, he was asked by several members of the press about the added complications of being a father of three, a sought-after figure for endorsements, and his recent marital difficulties.

"True, life is more complicated and hectic now than it was three or four years ago," he commented. "Up until now I don't think these things have complicated the build up. But you never know, they could..."

With that Armstrong revealed once more a desire not to set himself up as the sole favourite for the Tour title. He continues to insist that this year's race features a deep field, and no victory is assured before the race ends in Paris.

"I'm not getting any younger, and probably not getting any stronger," Armstrong said of how he feels physically. "I have to stay realistic and understand that not everything is a given in this sport, and that anyone can win. Well, not anyone... But a lot of guys."

Armstrong closed on a humorous note when asked to explain the abundance of Belgians in the US Postal organisation, including directeurs sportifs Johan Bruyneel, Dirk Demol, and several of the team's staff. "It wasn't necessarily by design, but it's worked out pretty well," he said. The Belgians, he said, shared a profound passion for the sport, which he also says to enjoy, and thus is happy to surround himself with others as committed to success. "Besides, you get to learn Flemish, which is one of the world's biggest languages," he joked.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)

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