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Tour de France News for May 19, 2004

Edited by John Stevenson

New sponsor in the bag for US Postal

Armstrong fitter than last year says Bruyneel

Johan Bruyneel
Photo: © Beth Seliga
Click for larger image

The US Postal team will continue in 2005 with the same structure as it currently possesses but a new name, according to directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel. Quoted by Reuters at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon Bruyneel said, "I can tell you that we have found a sponsor for the team next season when U.S. Postal service stop their involvement."

Bruyneel made the comment in the context of denying an Italian press report that Armstrong planned to retire after the Tour de France. "The article did not quote Lance or anyone close to him. I think it's wrong. I'm even certain it is."

Bruyneel would not say who the new sponsor will be.

On the subject of his team's star rider, Lance Armstrong is in top shape, said Bruyneel. "Lance seems to me very well mentally. Physically, he's fitter than last year, which is not difficult given the problems he had."

Armstrong has recently been engaged in his customary reconnaissance of the principal stages of the Tour de France, including a dozen runs up the Alpe d'Huez, scene of an individual time trial that is expected to be crucial in this year's Tour.

"I can say Lance was very dedicated in his stage checks," Bruyneel said. "Lance also went to check the next stage to Le Grand Bornand but he still has a lot of stages to work on."

Armstrong is not targeting a victory at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, according to Bruyneel. US Postal is mostly using the race to guage the form of some of Armstraong's team-mates who are potential team members for the Tour. The US Postal squad for Languedoc-Roussillon includes Jose Azevedo, Manuel Beltran, Viaceslav Ekimov, Benoit Joachim, Benjamin Noval, Pavel Padrnos and Jose-Luis Ribiera.

However, Armstrong's recent victory at the Tour de Georgia wasn't really on the team's game plan either, and "if the race dictates he might be involved in the fight for victory [at Languedoc-Roussillon]," said Bruyneel.

Bruyneel clarifies sponsor comments

Languedoc-Roussillon "Day by Day"

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Reached by Cyclingnews before the start of Stage 1 of Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, USPS-Berry Floor sports director Johan Bruyneel wanted to clarify his comments as quoted by Reuters yesterday. "Regarding my comments yesterday, I stated that I'm confident that we're are going to have a team in the future and for the moment I'm not worried about going on with the same team. Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs at Capital Sports & Entertainment are working hard to finalize everything for 2005. But there is no sponsor in the bag yet."

CSE's Stapleton is now listed on USPS-Berry Floor's UCI team list as team manager and his Austin, Texas based sports marketing firm recently assumed the marketing efforts towards securing a new sponsor for Lance Armstrong's team going forward. As when we spoke to him at the Dodge Tour de Georgia last month, Bruyneel declined to say when a new sponsor might be announced, explaining again that "it's out of my hands", but conventional wisdom is that before he races down the start ramp at the 2004 Tour de France's prologue in Liege, Lance Armstrong will know who's jersey he'll be wearing in 2005.

As for the Languedoc-Roussillon race this week, formerly the Midi-Libre, Bruyneel told Cyclingnews that "it's a good race, but a small race team-participation wise. With no, TT and the fact that the first three days are not that hard, you never know what can happen here. (USPS-Berry Floor) are not here to dominate this race at all; it's part of out Tour preparation and all 8 of the riders are potential Tour riders. I feel like our team has performed well all spring and we've gotten good results. Here we'll take it day by day."

Speaking of five-time Tour de France champion Armstrong and his quest for an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour this year, Bruyneel explained that. "Yes, Lance is in good condition and (speaking of USPS-Berry Floor's recent reconnaissance of l'Alpe d'Huez) I like what I saw in the Alps. We've seen the TTT course and the final TT in Besançon too. That will be hard, it's not flat at all, especially in the first half. Next we'll see some stages in the Pyrenees and then it's the Dauphiné Libéré."

Armstrong ready to challenge in the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon

Out of the ashes of the Grand Prix du Midi Libre, which stopped two years ago for financial reasons, comes the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, a five day stage race in southeastern France that is essentially the same as its predecessor. Run by Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the TdLR is also part of Lance Armstrong's Tour build up, and the US Postal-Berry Floor champion will be ready for the challenge.

The race is held over five stages between May 19-23 and does not include a time trial. However the generally hilly parcours contains two uphill finishes and should prove to be a worthy successor to the Midi Libre. Saturday's 161 km fourth stage from Pont du Gard to Mende finishes atop the Côte de la Croix-Neuve, a 1040m Cat. 1 climb, but there are also the Cat. 1 climbs of Col de la Croix de Berthel (1088m) and Cote de Molinès-Balsiège (1010m) preceding it. Sunday's 203 km stage from Florac to Sète finishes with two ascents of Mont Saint-Clair, which is only at 172m altitude but is rated as a Cat. 1 climb due to its proximity to the end of the race.

While Lance Armstrong is certainly the top favourite to "defend" his Midi Libre win of two years ago, attention should also be paid to David Millar (Cofidis), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Laurent Brochard (Ag2r), Thomas Lövkvist (FDJeux.com), Christophe Moreau and Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole).

The Stages

Stage 1 - May 19: Maury - Port-Vendres, 167 km
Stage 2 - May 20: Port-Leucate - Narbonne, 188 km
Stage 3 - May 21: Ganges - Aigues-Mortes, 162 km
Stage 4 - May 22: Pont du Gard - Mende (Côte de la Croix-Neuve), 161 km
Stage 5 - May 23: Florac - Sète (Mont Saint-Clair), 203 km

Euskaltel ready for the Tour

The Euskaltel-Euskadi team has already decided its nine-man line-up for this year's Tour de France. Iban Mayo will lead the orange-clad team from the Basque country, along with five other riders who represented the squad in last year's tour. Haimar Zubeldia, David Etxebarria, Unai Etxebarria, Mikel Artetxe, Iker Flores, Iker Camaño, Iñigo Landaluze and Egoi Martínez.

Director sportif Julián Gorospe has attempted to construct a more balanced team than in previous years, with less emphasis on the team's traditional strength - climbers - and more on flat-country performance. Hence the omission of Roberto Laiseka from the team, despite his victory at Luz Ardiden in 2001.

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