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Tour de France News for June 16, 2004

Edited by John Stevenson

Discovery lands Armstrong & US Postal through 2007

By Ed Felker in Washington

Lance Armstrong will roll out in new colours in 2005
Photo: © CN
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U.S.-based television programmer Discovery Communications, Inc., on Tuesday announced a three-year deal to sponsor Lance Armstrong and the team currently known as the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor. Though exact financial details were not revealed, the multimillion dollar contract clears the way for Armstrong to seek his sixth consecutive Tour de France victory next month without sponsorship distraction. It also led him to declare his intention to ride the 2005 Tour de France and possibly race in 2006, with an eye toward the Giro d'Italia and the spring classics.

The team will be renamed the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team in January, and will race the remainder of the year with the company's logo on the Postal Service jersey.

"I just didn't want to go away. I still love what I do, I still love the bike," Lance Armstrong told a cheering audience at the company's suburban Washington headquarters. Dressed in black slacks, black leather jacket and gray t-shirt, Armstrong looked relaxed and fit despite the flight from Brussels and planned same-day return. "I had many, many nights where I thought, well, what if we don't find a partner. Do you want to retire, Lance? I didn't want to retire. I'm glad I'll be back for at least a year, maybe two," he added.

Click here for the full report from the press conference

Bruyneel: Deal good; Ullrich hurt by Vino withdrawal

By Ed Felker in Washington

The inking of the new sponsorship deal with Discovery Communications, Inc. for three years was good news for Johan Bruyneel, directeur sportif of the current U.S. Postal-Berry Floor team, who can now look ahead to the Tour de France without wondering if his riders are angling for contracts with other teams.

"I think it's going to make a big difference in how we can concentrate on the Tour and we don't have to be worried about the future. The riders, maybe looking to other teams. It's great, it's what we need," said Bruyneel, speaking after the sponsorship announcement in suburban Washington, D.C.

That said, Bruyneel also indicated that another big development this week - the announcement that T-Mobile rider Alexandre Vinokourov will not start the tour due to a crash at the Tour de Suisse on Sunday - will also benefit Armstrong's bid for a sixth tour victory.

"You don't wish for anybody to have accidents or to crash. It's very unfortunate that the rider who was third in the Tour de France last year is not going to be there. But it's a big disadvantage for Ullrich not to have somebody who is a threat."

Bruyneel downplayed any sense of panic stemming from the Dauphiné Libéré, where Armstrong placed fourth overall behind a scorching Iban Mayo of Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla of Phonak. Armstrong, who rode the race in part to contest the Mont Ventoux time trial, placed fifth in that stage, nearly two minutes behind stage winner Mayo, despite posting his fastest ever result.

Bruyneel said the Stage 4 team time trial will still be important towards the goal of putting some time into Mayo and Hamilton before the mountains, though to only a limited degree due to the 2'30 maximum loss a team can suffer.

Rather, he said what matters more is how Armstrong and his competitors use next few weeks. "When we were in the mountains of the Dauphiné, we were five weeks away from the mountains of the Tour de France. That's a long time."

The value of the Dauphiné was to observe who was strong there, but also who is able to stay strong over the next four or five weeks. "The art would be to be 100 percent at the halfway point of the Tour." Asked if it would be difficult for Mayo to hold his form that long, Bruyneel was blunt: "Honestly, I hope so."

Another revelation: Bruyneel made it sound like Lance has given up on his prototype Trek time trial bike, at least the one that has been featured on The Lance Chronicles documentary and on the Trek web site. "He is using a new time trial bike. I didn't say the new time trial bike," Bruyneel offered.

Beloki out of La Boulangère

Joseba Beloki has left Brioches la Boulangère, effective immediately, and will in all likelihood not take part in the Tour de France. The Basque rider and La Boulangère's team manager Jean Bernaudeau reached a mutual agreement to part ways on Tuesday evening, and Beloki is now free to find another team.

Even if Beloki was to be signed by a team in the next two weeks, Bernaudeau said that it would be impossible for him to take part in the Tour. "Contractually it's impossible," he was quoted by L'Equipe as saying. "He is either with us on the Tour or he is with nobody. For the rest, this is a unilateral decision that finally satisfied the two camps. He is not leaving us upset, and this is the important thing."

Beloki has not been anywhere near his best since his bad crash during the 2003 Tour, in which he broke his right thighbone, right elbow and wrist. Hired especially by La Boulangère to ride the Tour, Beloki made a late start to the 2004 season, but there were no real signs that he would be ready in time. Problems with getting his asthma medication (pulmicort) cleared by the French Cycling Federation added to his woes, but the announcement that La Boulangère would stop its sponsorship at the end of the season, despite Beloki having a two year contract with the team, precipitated his final decision to leave.

Tour chief puts pressure on Saeco and Cofidis

Patrice Clerc, the President of the Amaury Sport Organisation (which owns the Tour de France), is putting pressure on the Saeco and Cofidis teams to drop riders that have allegedly been involved in doping scandals. Clerc spoke out after a report appeared in Le Monde linking Saeco's Danilo Di Luca, Alessandro Spezialetti and Eddy Mazzoleni with doping. The three have been charged by police in a wide ranging investigation into doping in Italy, and Le Monde published extracts of police records that allegedly detail mobile phone calls between the riders and Dr. Carlo Santuccione about using EPO.

In a similar case, Cofidis rider Cedric Vasseur is under investigation by French police, and although Cofidis maintains that Vasseur is innocent until proven guilty, Clerc said that he should not be allowed to start the Tour de France.

"I don't see how they can start the Tour if they are found guilty of dangerous links through tapped phone calls," Clerc told AFP. "There are still cheats out there. We have to own up to it and fight to eliminate not only the riders but everyone in their set-up involved in it."

Godefroot: "Bad luck"

T-Mobile team manager Walter Godefroot says he feels the team has been unlucky at the Tour of Switzerland, but doesn't yet know how the loss of Alexandre Vinokourov after a crash in stage 2 will affect the team's make-up for the Tour de France. Godefroot told Belgian sports programme Sporza, "This is life I know, bike racing and crashes, and we'll deal with it no doubt. But it does make me a bit sad to have all this bad luck so close to the Tour. I certainly hope there's no more crashes here. I've seen the radar fences before the finish aren't placed properly; that shouldn't happen on this level."

Godefroot is skeptical about the importance of the Tour of Switzerland as a pre-Tour indicator. "Jan [Ullrich] definitely doesn't have to win this race," he said. "It's not a guarantee that you will be good in the Tour if you win this race. He's in good shape, that's a sure thing. He's now got the form that we were expecting him to have by the start of the Tour. Jan might do another effort in one of the mountain stages, but for now, he's being careful. Vino was a bit of a wild card here and he could have gone for the win if he felt up to it. After losing a second rider we won't try and control this race. We definitely won't try to defend the jersey at all cost.

"You don't want to overdo it here, it's a fast and hard race and the ideal preparation for July. Wisely, everyone who's going to the Tour seems to be careful about going too deep in the lead-up to the Tour, even on the flat stages, except for McEwen of course."

Godefroot wouldn't be drawn on exactly who will be riding the Tour, though he confirmed the presence of Erik Zabel, despite Zabel's less-than-sparkling form in the sprints so far this year. "I can't tell you much right now," he said. "The situation has changed because of Vino being out. But for example Ivanov, he'll be going because he can work for Zabel and Ullrich in the Tour so he's a solid value in the Tour team. For now, we have 11-12 riders we have to select from and this evening we'll sit down and talk about it, but right now I can't tell you anything yet. I know that Zabel's selection is questioned by many; but he will always have his spot. His speed is still good, don't be mistaken! He was just tired in Germany and then of course the speed suffers."

Mayo plays down 'favourite' tag

Tips Ullrich & Armstrong

After his apparently effortless victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré last week, Iban Mayo is being widely tipped as a serious contender for the Tour de France. But the Basque climbing specialist doesn't consider himself a favourite.

At a press conference at his Euskaltel-Euskadi team's headquarters in Derio yesterday, Mayo said, "I have my feet on the ground and I know that the Tour is the Tour. We have not shown anything more than that we can win a stage and be among the top ten. It's a long way from that to say you are going to win. Until you have won [a Tour] you are not a favourite for a victory. My favorites are Ullrich and Armstrong because one has won a Tour and the other five; I not even been on the podium. It makes me chuckle when people say I am going to win the Tour de France, because I have not yet shown that ability."

Mayo also asked for a little peace and quiet after his Dauphiné victory. He said that if winning the Dauphiné was "hard", then the media attention he's been subjected to since Sunday was "much more" and pleaded to be left alone to spend time with his family and prepare for the Tour.

"To have to give each journalist five minutes doesn't leave you any time for a private life," he said. "I understand that it is your job, but sometimes it's a burden for me." Mayo said that the press conference would be his last public appearance before the June 28, when the team will travel to Belgium for the start of the Tour.

Scott Sunderland on LA Confidential

Scott gives his opinion
Photo ©: Christin Grein

Cyclingnews diarist Scott Sunderland is never afraid to speak his mind about some of the more controversial goings on in cycling. Scott has always been strongly opposed against doping, and in his latest entry from the Tour de Suisse, he gives his opinion on the new book written by David Walsh and Pierre Ballester entitled LA Confidential.

"I talked to a L'Equipe journalist this morning and we had a discussion about the new book, LA Confidential. I haven't seen the full details - the only snippet I've read is from Emma O'Reilly, but it's been a hot topic today.

I honestly can't work out what benefit writing a book like this about Lance Armstrong will achieve - except make the writers a shitload of money, what's the point?

I hope that the readers of Cyclingnews don't buy his book because I have the feeling it's all about money, the timing picked to publish it says enough don't you think? Cycling has been at the brunt of too many scandals - while other sports are getting away with a lot worse. I agree, some of them have deserved to come out, but most have been sensational.

Too many people are hanging on Lance Armstrong, he is such an inspiration to so many people, in and outside the sport. We need guys like Lance; really, people need to stop "killing" their heroes!

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