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Tour de France Cycling News for July 2, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Armstrong: Not a legend just yet

Lance Armstrong realistic going for sixth consecutive Tour victory

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Liège, Belgium

Media frenzy
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In his Tour de France pre-race press conference in Liege, Belgium Thursday afternoon, a calm, relaxed yet determined Lance Armstrong told the assembled media that he was ready to go for an unprecedented win number six. When asked right off the bat about how winning a sixth straight Tour De France would make him a cycling legend, Armstrong downplayed the legendary aspects a possible victory might bring.

"To me, (legend) is more than just six letters. I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about that right now... The Tour isn't a one day race; it's very difficult to win and there are a lot of things that can happen. I can just flat out lose the race to another rider so I prefer to face it one day at a time beginning on Saturday and every day is important. So if we end up on the 25th of July and I'm the one in the yellow jersey, if we can talk about a total of six, then I can talk about (being a cycling legend) and think about it. For now, it's a daunting task and for now, I prefer to basically focus on this year and focus day by day."

Armstrong is optimistic that he's on the right track fitness-wise to win six Tours. "Right now, I feel good. I might have a different answer in three weeks... I think if you show up at the Tour on day one at 100% of your form, it's difficult to maintain that for three weeks.

"Jan Ullrich is a perfect example (of that)," Armstrong noted. "He comes in (to the Tour) perhaps sometimes a little behind but he's incredibly strong in the final week or ten days. With that model, (the Tour) will be very dangerous this year, because the final week is incredibly hard and crucial with the time trials and the mountains. Honestly, I don't know where I am. I feel strong and I feel healthy... I would even say that I feel stronger and healthier than last year; we'll know a little bit on Saturday. I think that the prologue while it's not a true test, a hard test, it's at least some indication. And also, we'll know more as the race goes on with the team time trial and the first mountains."

Eyeballing the competition, Armstrong as always named Jan Ullrich as his main rival in the year's Tour de France.

"Jan is better prepared then we expected and better prepared than other years (this year)...he's the biggest rival. Beyond Ullrich, there's a list of six to ten that are very close: Iban Mayo, Hamilton, Zubeldia, Basso... Unfortunately we lost Vinokourov. But I think the (Tour) will be tight and very tough to win."

Armstrong had several somewhat contentious exchanges with several journalists today in Liège. When a French journalist asked Armstrong about the possibility that he could beat Pantani's record up l'Alpe d'Huez and proceeded to talk about the American's power output in watts, Armstrong asked "how do you know the watts?" and went on to debunk the journalist's supposition that "we can calculate your watts" by saying "the only way for anybody to know the wattage is to weigh the rider and weigh the equipment before the start. The last time I checked my weight I was the only one in the room," Armstrong sardonically joked.

The allegations

When asked about his former Motorola teammate Steven Swart's unsubstantiated allegations about the use of EPO on Armstrong's former team, Lance's response was a terse "no comment", but when asked to talk about the controversial French tattle tome "LA Confidentiel" in general, Armstrong replied, "I'll say one thing about the book, especially since the esteemed author (David Walsh) is here. In my view, I think extraordinary accusations must be followed-up with extraordinary proof. And Mr. Walsh and Mr. Ballester worked for years (on LA Confidentiel) and they have not come up with extraordinary proof."

Armstrong's indignation was palpable as he explained clearly to the assembled media in general but most pointedly at LA Confidentiel co-author David Walsh that "This case is now incredibly complicated and will be a long one. I've engaged lawyers in both France and England. I will spend whatever it takes and however long it takes to bring justice to the case.

"I will also say that I have received many many calls and messages from journalists in this room who've read the book, people who've read the book and have said to me 'OK what's the big deal; there's nothing there.' And I appreciate the support; you all know who you are and I just want to say publicly to you 'thank you' for reaching out to me at a time when I think there was a lot of expectation, but there wasn't a lot of delivery."

The race route

Although Armstrong didn't believe that the Tour de France organizers had developed this year's parcours especially to make it hard for him, but rather to make it "interesting", he did lament the new TDF rule for 2004 that will limit a team's loss to 2'30" in the team time trial.

"I still to this day have a hard time understanding that regulation, where a team can lose two and a half minutes in the first half of a team time trial and then just sit up," he said.

"As I've said about a variety of other issues regarding the Tour de France organization, it's their race and they are very good at organizing it and promoting it and I'll leave it up to them to make those decisions. The other mountain days I can't complain about. I've won a lot of those stages in recent years. (The organization) designs the courses, the athletes prepare, and I still believe the best man wins in paris, and for me that's all that matters, even if I'm second. As long as the best man wins."

Millar placed under investigation

David Millar (Cofidis) was formally placed under investigation following his meeting with judge Richard Pallain in Nanterre, France on Thursday. Millar's meeting with Pallain, who heads the investigation into drug use and trafficking surrounding members of the Cofidis team, is a result of a confession that he used EPO made during nearly 48 hours of police interrogation in Biarritz last week. A police search of Millar's Biarritz residence also revealed two empty vials of Eprex, a brand of EPO.

"David Millar was heard for two hours by the judge and there was a lot of emotion," Millar's lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins told the Associated Press. "He spoke of his own doping and he did not point the finger at any other person implicated in this case."

Millar was placed under investigation for the acquisition and possession of a banned substance as a result of the police search which produced the two syringes. Millar's lawyer did confirm, however, that his client confessed to the usage of EPO during his interrogation last week.

"He said that he took three courses of EPO, one week each, during 2001 and 2003," Mr. Iweins explained.

Millar, who has not yet faced any formal consequences from his Cofidis team, has been banned from this year's Tour de France. The Tour organisers adopted a policy of rejecting any rider currently under police or judicial investigation. The decision forced Millar's teammate Cédric Vasseur out of the Tour, along with several Italians facing investigation in Italy.

Ullrich relaxed

Speaking in the Tour de France press centre in Liège, Belgium Thursday, five-time runner up and 1997 winner Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) put on a relaxed air when asked about his preparation and his chances for overall victory in this year's race. Ullrich has three times finished second behind defending champion Lance Armstrong, and the two men have never wavered from their mutual admiration and respect as top competitors. Ullrich tips Armstrong as the man to beat once again, but did his best to keep the pressure on the American, downplaying his own level of anxiety about the race.

"It's the same situation as in the last few years; Armstrong has to win to continue his great record," Ullrich said of the five-time champion. "For me, my objective is to win, but it's not an obligation."

Ullrich is a fierce competitor in the individual time trial, but the Tour de Suisse winner isn't expecting victory in the short prologue through the streets of Liège. That's not to say he considers the opening test unimportant.

"The time gaps will be small once again in this year's Tour," he said. "It's important not to lose one second in the prologue. Then during the first ten days the objective is to not lose time in the team time trial... and to avoid crashes.

"I haven't looked at the prologue course yet, I've only seen the race book," he added. "Even if I'm at 100%, I don't think I can win the prologue. But it would be good to take some time from my rivals."

Johan Bruyneel: Cool, calm & collected

US Postal Service team directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel always seems calm and confident and when Cyclingnews spoke to him in Liège on Thursday, Bruyneel was positive- but not overconfident- about guiding Lance Armstrong and the USPS-Berry Floor team to victory in the 91st Tour De France.

"I think it looks good for Lance (to win his sixth consecutive Tour)," Bruyneel said. "We did our preparation as we wanted to and with two days to go to the Tour de France I think we can saw we are ready."

Speaking of US Postal's training camp in the Pyrénées last week, Bruyneel explained that "It went well. We did two hard stages in the Pyrénées and some team time trial training and it was good. Good to see the way the team worked and good to have some more climbing."

Prior to the team medical check Thursday, George Hincapie told Cyclingnews that "the training camp was really hard. The stage to Plateau de Beille... man! We did (Stage 13) and it took us seven and a half hours and we did thirty kilometres less."

Speaking about Benjamin Noval, the new addition to the US Postal squad for this year's Tour, Bruyneel seemed pleased with his choice. "He's a good, strong, young rider and I think he's going to surprise a lot of people."

Di Luca out

Saeco's Danilo Di Luca, himself under investigation in Italy for possible doping offenses, tempted fate by making the journey to Liège, Belgium for the Tour de France start but found himself firmly rejected by the race organisation. Di Luca, with the support of his Saeco team, refused to accept the Tour's decision to prohibit riders implicated in an investigation, but the Tour remained steadfast in its decision. Di Luca will be replaced by Swiss rider David Loosli.

Climbing Crow

Crow mingles
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Blending in with the media mosh today at her significant other Lance Armstrong's pre-Tour de France press conference, rock star Sheryl Crow confirmed to Cyclingnews that her current passion for cycling is paying off with performance.

"Yes, it's true", Crow told us when we asked her to confirm the rumour that her time up l'Alpe d'Huez was 90 minutes from Bourg d'Oisans to the summit aboard her Trek Madone.

"It wasn't easy," she joked good naturedly.

Top tips for the Cyclingnews Fantasy Tour de France game

It's time to select your own team for this years Tour de France Fantasy Cycling game. What lessons can be learnt from last year?

Last year's 1st place winner Matt from New Jersey, USA shares with us some of his hot tips:

"Usually I like to play my cards close to my chest, but since lady luck was good to me last year, I'll try and share what strategic insight I have to give. The big difference between the Giro game and this year's tour game should become obvious to anyone looking at the UCI points chart. All of the big favourites are right up at the top of that list... For last year's game, there were some obvious 'bargain buys' for GC like Ullrich, who was somewhere in the sub-350 point range."

"Last year, I won on a gamble: I bet against Beloki and left him off my team, using the 1400 UCI points he would have cost to buy other riders like Zubeldia, Basso & McGee, who paid off handsomely in GC and stage points. Beloki further hedged my bets by crashing out, thus handicapping anyone else who'd chosen him. It may be worth thinking about who to bet against this year. As much as I hate to say it, it's not unreasonable to ask if Tyler can stay upright for 3 weeks. Who would you buy with his 1160 pts. if he crashed out?"

"Given how 'pricey' this year's GC favourites are in UCI points, anyone who wants to win will have to strike a similar compromise."

"Last year, I picked two Euskaltels: Zubeldia and Mayo (I usually don't pick two GC riders from the same team), because of their strong lead up performances and prologue results. This year, it may well be worth "doubling" up on riders from a team with multiple top-10 potentials (Julich, Voigt, Sastre) or Phonak (Hamilton, Sevilla, Pereiro) because of the relative strength of these squads. CSC in particular will be riding on the 'multiple threat' strategy."

"One final word of advice: Pick potential GC and stage winners and if you win Green or Polka-dot jersey points with them fine but concentrate on the stages and GC teams first. Good luck, Matt."

Hans Jacob from Norway, the 4th place winner last year, had this to say:

"I think I will go for 9 GC riders and 6 sprinters. I feel that this combination gives you the best team structure in the end. There are plenty of good GC riders and they all have high point values so the trick is the find the ones that will do well this year. Voigt, Heras, Basso and Moreau should place well in the overall classification. These GC contenders will also normally be good climbers, so the MTN team will consist of the same riders."

"My fellow countryman Hushovd has also had quite a few victories this year and is looking very promising after his Norwegian double (TT and road). The first few days of the race should give a good indication of who is on form and who is not, and a fine tuning of the team until stage 6 will be essential."

Alistair from Scotland, the 2nd place winner last year wraps it up:

"I feel this year more than any before that Lance is not a certainty for the overall. Who is?? My final advice is to watch the first stages carefully before making any final team selection. Some riders will obviously be going well and others obviously not. On top of this there is always accidents in the early stages that will disadvantage some riders. You want to be going into the second week of the Tour with a full complement of riders that have had no misfortune to that point."

"Thinking back to Le Tour last year I was fairly lucky that only one of my riders (Caucchioli) dropped out. However losing just one GC rider really hampers your chance of winning the overall competition (ask anybody who selected Beloki!)."

"I hope the Tour's a cracker!"

To take part this year all you need to do is pick a team of 15 riders to race and select 9 riders each day during the tour. You can join up until stage 6 begins. It's a great way to follow the tour. To register go to fantasy.cyclingnews.com. Good luck!

 

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