Tour de France News Extra for July 6, 2004
What lies ahead
Lance Armstrong press conference, Namur, July 5, 2004
After stage 2 in Gembloux, Belgium, a relaxed and confident Lance
Armstrong and directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel sat down with a small group
of journalists to answer questions about the Tour so far, and what lies
ahead. Cyclingnews' European Editor Tim Maloney was among
Photo ©: Jonathan Devich
Question: How is this year's Tour so far? Is it harder than last
Lance Armstrong: So far? Ummm… no. I think the first
two stages have been completely normal. Very fast, very nervous… dangerous
finishes as we see every day. After today, I think it changes.
[Stage Three] is something we've never seen [referring to pavé
stretches] and then you have directly the team time trial. Tomorrow is
going to be a very interesting stage, I think.
Q: It's the first time [in many years] that the Tour de France
is going on the pavé, like a little Roubaix. Are you worried?
LA: Yeah, I think everybody is worried, because it's…
even the riders who are good on the pavé have to be worried. It's
always dangerous; you have to be in the front, if you get stuck behind
a crash or something like that, you can almost say that your Tour is finished.
We saw that before in '99. [1999's stage three, Challans-Saint Nazaire
where a mass crash on the slippery marine causeway of le Passage du Gois
played havoc with the Tour peloton].
Cyclingnews: Have you spoken to Jan Ullrich yet?
LA: Yeah, I've said 'hello' and just simple things…
CN: How's he look to you? We've heard a lot of comments about
how good Ullrich looks this year… really cut and in great shape this year.
Lance Armstrong before stage 2
Photo ©: AFP
LA: He always looks good in the Tour in my opinion…
he looks the same. The way somebody looks doesn't really mean much.
I guess Jan falls into the trap of people always judging the way he looks;
is he fat or is he skinny; that's what they always say. So when he's finally
really, really skinny they say 'oh my god' he's skinny… but at the Tour,
in my opinion, [Ullrich] is always pretty skinny. A kilo here, a kilo
there… he's close.
CN: Some observers are expecting to see a showdown between USPS-Berry
Floor and T-Mobile in Wednesday's team time trial.
LA: Uhmmm… I think there'll be other teams close…
I think; I don't know about CSC, perhaps CSC will be close. I even think
Phonak will do a good ride… and then there's always the teams that surprise.
Fassa Bortolo, I think, will do a good ride also…a lot of strong riders
there, a lot of rouleurs.
Q: What do you think about CSC in the [team] time trial?
LA: I know [CSC directeur sportif Bjarne] Riis is
really passionate about this. They have some big engines with Peron and
Voigt and Basso and Piil… Maybe Piil should take it easy for a day; the
team time trial's going to be a little bit difficult. No, [CSC] will be
good. And they practice a lot… they're always doing team time trial training,
so they'll be tough.
Q: Can you give us some idea about the specific work you did to
prepare for the team time trial?
Lance Armstrong (2nd R) & girlfriend
Sheryl Crow (R)
Photo ©: AFP
LA: Yeah; we didn't do very much… we never do a lot.
The hardest part is finding the specific order of the riders. And you
have to find the balance of the size of the riders, the big ones… and
you have people like Azevedo and Padrnos, and then you have to weave in
the strength of the riders. Who should go where in the rotation… and then
also, obviously, some riders don't have much experience with [team time
trials] like Noval; he's never done one. And he's also very strong, so
he tends to accelerate too much, so we have to also teach him to not go
faster but go longer. So we try to do that, but really we only did four
LA: Over the last couple of weeks - and I'm the only
[rider] who's seen the course - after Criterium International. But it's
a pretty simple course, actually.
Q: And what is the role of the climbers in the TTT? To hide?
LA: To… not to hide! Last year, Roberto [Heras] and
Triki [Beltran] never missed a pull. They pulled the whole time…so [the
climbers] role is to never drop the speed. They should [take their] turn,
but it the speed starts to drop, they should turn out.
Johan Bruyneel: You asked me the same question this
morning [to French journalist]…
French Journalist: Yes!
LA: It's the same answer?
French Journalist: Yeah!
LA: See! [whistles a high and low note while gesturing
back and forth between him and Johan]
Q: Lance, will you use a single line or a double line in the TTT?
LA: No, we will do single line
we played with
a double line. If the other teams are listening, [double line in the TTT]
is the best thing to do. Tell the other teams to do double line
until they blow up! It's a lot harder
it's fast, but for some reason,
I don't think it's the fastest. If you really need to go
if you have a strong crosswind, you could do [double line], or if at the
end if you tried to make up ten or fifteen seconds, you could switch to
[double line]. But from the start, it's too hard.
Photo ©: Olympia
Q: How important is the team time trial?
LA: It's important; it's a lot less important now
than it was last year with the new regulation. [Armstrong is referring
to the Tour De France's new regulation that says the maximum time loss
on a team trial stage is 2'30"]. But it's still important. The facts
are that one team will lose no time and another team will lose three minutes.
So that says a lot. If I lost three minutes today, ask me how important
that would be. It would be really important! So with the new rules, the
time gaps are going to be set, so it's important for [USPS-Berry Floor]
to have some climbers' teams be beaten by teams that we don't really pay
much attention to. For example, a Euskaltel gets beat by Francaises des
Jeux, Ag2r, Fassa Bortolo; teams that aren't on our radar screen necessarily,
but if they get past then they automatically start to lose [Armstrong
makes chopping motion with hand to indicate stage ranking] twenty, twenty,
ten, ten, ten, five, five, five (seconds)
so then they start to
move down [on general classification].
CN: Question for Lance and Johan
scenario: if USPS-Berry
Floor wins the time trial and you take the Yellow Jersey, what's the strategy
going forward from there?
LA: Well we wouldn't defend it, I don't think
[looks at Bruyneel, who shakes his head]. No, we wouldn't; the good thing
about the team time trial is you have a team that does a good prologue
and you have a team that does a good team time trial, then you can play
the tactics of the riders being high on the classification; if there are
breakaways, then you can put a George in there or an Eki, and the guys
that did good prologues, then we can keep the [yellow] jersey within the
team. You see it every year
the team that wins the team time trial,
all they do is trade around the yellow jersey. It just goes from one guy
to the next guy
it happens all the time. So that could be an option.
Q: Do you think you will have the yellow jersey after the time
LA: Well if the team wins, then I will definitely
be in the yellow jersey. But
I don't know and we have to do [stage
and I'm nervous about tomorrow. So
It's not important to have the jersey after the team time trial. It's
nice to have it; it's what you come to do, but if you have to wait until
the Pyrenees or later, it's okay too.
It isn't easy being green
Photo ©: Sirotti
Q: When would it be important for you to have the yellow jersey?
Is there a key stage?
LA: Paris. It's important there
doesn't matter. It just depends more on how the race is coming. Look at
two years ago
we didn't have the jersey until the very end. I think
we had a good idea that ultimately we would have it; the end is all that
the final lap on the Champs Elysees.
Q: Is it true that the Tour really begins at La Mongie?
LA: Maybe before that; I don't know the stages before
that, but they're tricky. (At La Mongie), these are the big, big mountains;
the high mountains. And even La Mongie; this stage is not so difficult.
The next day is really, really, really difficult. It's perhaps the start
of the real Tour.
CN: Can you compare stage 13 [Lannemezan-Plateau de Beille-205.5km]
to stage 14 [Bourg-d'Oisans-Le Grand Bornand]?
LA: Similar. Up and down all day. We did [Stage 13]
and it's 5,200 meters of climbing. So
Q: Is this a Tour for grimpeurs, or maybe is better for a rider
I don't know
I don't know. To
me, the Tour is always for, in the last, with all my experience in the
Tour the last ten or twelve years, the Tour is made for the strong guys.
The climbers, they can shine, but they don't necessarily win.
Q: Can you talk about Ekimov? What does he bring in terms of character
to the team?
LA: [Eki] is unique, 'cuz I think a rider, not just
in the team but in the peloton, they grew up with Ekimov with being sort
of this person, this guy from Russia, gold medals all of his life and
how was the first eastern European who came over and was very, very successful
so he's a bit of an idol, myself included. But Eki, he's a funny guy
I think he's like an American; he talks slang and his English is perfect
we spent almost the whole month of April together. We did Georgia and
after that, I was in LA and he came out there for about two weeks and
he and I trained together and I just love to train with him 'cuz you can
do eight hours a day and he's like "okay".
[Eki] came back every day from training, I was like "where's Eki?"
" Oh, he's down at Baja Fresh." Baja Fresh is this Mexican place.
Every day; he would go to Baja Fresh. I'd come back. "Where's Eki?"
" Oh, he's down at Baja Fresh." Gone. Baja Fresh. The same place,
every day. Down on Sunset Strip. He just loved it, this guy. One day,
Eki came down with me; I had to do this shoot... down on Venice Beach.
And (Eki) got lost. And I thought "oh no, he's toast, this guy
he's getting a tattoo or something, no cell phone, a kid from St.Petersburg..."
Not a kid anymore, he's a good example on the team. He's very serious.
And you see, if you watch the stages, he still does the job, better than
anybody. He can ride on the front all day long. He can ride fast, he can
ride long, he can do everything. The guy's got
he always has morale.
Q: But you had a retirement party for Ekimov.
LA: Yeah, but he couldn't do it. He tried to retire,
CN: Can we roll that question up to the entire 2004 USPS-Berry
Floor Tour de France team?
LA: We had bad luck Sunday with two small crashes,
but I think the teams better than
maybe the best one we've ever
had. I see Pavel [Padrnos] better than he was last year, Chechu better
than he was last year, Floyd obviously better than he was last year, with
his [broken pelvis] problems last year. The team is strong. Yeah.
Q: What do you think about the Millar affair?
LA: No comment.
Q: What about the statements Manolo Saiz made about you?
LA: Can I ask you a question? Are these new comments
or the same comments he says every year?
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
Spanish Journalist: Maybe it's the same comments.
LA: I think it's the same comments
they just took the tape, they pushed stop, they pushed rewind and they
pushed play. Stop, rewind, play. Stop, rewind, play
the only thing
I can say
Manolo says that I'm not good for cycling but to yell
on TV at the Tour of Spain that you're going to kill somebody's bitch
mother, that's not good for cycling, so
Q: With Tuesday's pavé, how did you prepare for that?
LA: We went to look
Q: Do you think they have a place be in the Tour?
LA: Most people say they don't have a place in the
Q: Do you believe that?
LA: [Sighs] I can see both sides
because I really think some people's Tour will be finished Tuesday. Huh!
And I could be one of those people. I'm not dumb enough to think that
I couldn't be. And that would be a shame. But at the same time, the cobbles
are a big part of French cycling. And if you look at Paris-Roubaix, they
are what they are; they're a beautiful thing and so if you look at it
like that, then they should be a part of the Tour De France. It's been
a long time, but they did it before. I don't know (laughs) Ask me tomorrow!
I may have a very strong opinion tomorrow.
Q: Before the Tour, you said 'this will be the hardest Tour for
me. Are you convinced?
LA: I say that every year.
Spanish Journalist: [Laughing] Like Manolo Saiz?
LA: Stop, rewind, play! Good answer
I think the competition will be the toughest. The course is tough, but
I think the competition will be more
will be deeper than other year.
You see in the early stages, a lot of the riders with all of their teams
around them, everybody wanting to be in the front, everybody fighting
for position; you can see the field is full.
Q: And if Ullrich is behind you since the prologue?
LA: No, this doesn't matter
is nothing. Basically the same time
doesn't change anything. Vediamo
At that, USPS-Berry Floor media manager Jogi Muller called an end to
the festivities and Lance adjourned to the hotel dining room with his
teammates for a tasty dinner of pasta with curry sauce and fillet steak
cooked by Chef Willi.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)