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Tour de France Cycling News for July 2, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Hamilton as leader

For the first time in his career, Tyler Hamilton enters the Tour de France as a bona-fide contender for the final yellow jersey in Paris. After what he calls a steady progression, from faithful lieutenant to Lance Armstrong at US Postal Service to co-leader at Team CSC to unique leader at Phonak, Hamilton has arrived at a critical point in his career with this year's Tour. The American is quite clear in his objective for 2004.

"I'm here to win," he said Thursday in Liège, Belgium, where the Tour kicks off with Saturday's prologue time trial. ""At first I didn't have the leadership skills but Phonak is 100% percent behind me and now it all comes down to me."

Hamilton developed enormously as a rider during his two years with Bjarne Riis' CSC team, during which he became the first American to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, won the Tour de Romandie (a title he successfully defended this year), placed second in the Giro d'Italia and fourth overall in the Tour de France. Hamilton has always spoken highly of his time with Riis, but the opportunity to reach for his own Tour glory proved too insatiable when Phonak offered him the role of sole leader.

"I had two great years at CSC and I wouldn't trade those years for anything, but I'm ready to be the sole team leader and go for the Tour de France," Hamilton added.

"I'm very confident. This is the first time I've had a team entirely at my service. Throughout my career I've done things in stages, and this is the first time I've had the position of leader."

And just as his team has placed full confidence in his abilities, Hamilton has faith that his Phonak teammates are ready for the job of riding for victory in the Tour in this the team's first ever participation.

"The objective has been the Tour, and the closer we've gotten the better the team has performed," he explained. "That's what you need to win the Tour."

Hamilton, who now counts as one of defending champion Lance Armstrong's top rivals, isn't ready to offer any favours to his former leader on the road. Nor does Armstrong expect any.

"I'm here to win. Lance and I are friends, but on the bike we're rivals. It's every man for himself."

Riis confident

Despite the move to Phonak by Tyler Hamilton, fourth overall in last year's Tour de France, Team CSC director Bjarne Riis is typically confident heading into this year's Tour. Riis' team suffered another setback with the last minute withdrawal of Jörg Jaksche, who broke his arm in a training crash this week, but Riis is eager to build upon the experience of 2003, which saw the team take three stage wins and the final team prize.

"We have a stronger team than last year and we can do well in all areas," Riis commented. "We have big ambitions. If everything works out, we could have Basso and Sastre in the top ten, we can win stages, and we can challenge for the yellow jersey. The team time trial is also a big objective."

Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre will ride as the team's leaders for the general classification, with the support of experienced riders including Jens Voigt, Andrea Peron, and Bobby Julich. Michele Bartoli will return to the Tour de France, alongside last year's stage winner Jakob Piil.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)

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