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Tour de France News for May 21, 2004

Edited by Chris Henry

Yellow suits Hushovd

Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
Photo ©: AFP

With back to back stage wins and the leader's yellow jersey as a reward in the opening days of the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) is already thinking ahead to the Tour de France in July. With his confidence bolstered after a successful spring, Hushovd has not one but two jerseys on his mind for the Tour. The green points jersey remains his number one objective, but Hushovd believes he could wear yellow as well.

"I think I can do a very good prologue," Hushovd commented in l'Equipe. "I think I can get the yellow jersey, it's a real objective this year."

The fact that the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon- which picks up where the Midi Libre left off in 2002- is organised by the organisers of the Tour de France does not escape Hushovd. "It's an ASO race, it evokes the Tour de France, and it's always symbolic to wear the jersey," he said. "It gives you ideas... To be next to Armstrong, wearing the yellow jersey, I feel like the patron of the peloton."

With former teammate and fellow sprinter and green jersey contender Stuart O'Grady riding for Cofidis this season, Hushovd expects a greater leadership role at Crédit Agricole, both at the Tour and throughout the year.

"I've got six victories this season and I think I've proven they can count on me," he said. "From this point on I can truly think about having the status of leader... I have something to do in this year's Tour and I intend to have people talking about me."

US Postal makes waves

The blue train has left the station
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Team leader Lance Armstrong and directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel continue to maintain that victory in the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon is not an objective, but the team's performance in Thursday's stage 2 no doubt made waves in the peloton as the 'blue train' went express in a pre-Tour dress rehearsal. Armstrong himself took part in the effort, along with his entire team, to shut down a breakaway and take control of the peloton as roads narrowed and the wind picked up in the finale of Thursday's race. The effort didn't go unnoticed.

"I asked myself what was going on," race leader Thor Hushovd said of the Postal power play. "Honestly, I was worried. It was as if they wanted to test everybody before the Tour, and frankly I think everyone was tested. Even Armstrong took pulls at the front... Incredible."

One team happy to join in the effort was Brioches La Boulangère, once it became clear the team's man in the break, Anthony Charteau, stood no chance against the onslaught.

"For us it was a good opportunity," said French national champion Didier Rous. "But Armstrong can't surprise anyone. He and his team don't work for nothing. It's always tough to tell whether or not he's bluffing, but it's clear he's not just here to sit in."

Rous' directeur sportif, Thierry Bricaud, confirmed the sentiment. "For someone who's here without any ambition, things are still very clear," he told l'Equipe.

For US Postal director Johan Bruyneel, it was all business, just a matter of smart tactics, to take control early. "We didn't plan anything, but once we hit the small roads and the wind got stronger, we decided to stay together at the front to avoid any problems," he said. "It's always better to take the initiative yourself."

Sastre improving

Although he has had a quiet spring thus far, Team CSC's Carlos Sastre has continued to train and will test himself in view of the Tour de France at the upcoming Tour of Luxembourg and Dauphiné Libéré stage races in May and June. Sastre was the winner of a mountain stage to the Plateau de Bonascre in the 2003 Tour and hopes to repeat the feat this year.

"I will have a good measure of my form at the Dauphiné," Sastre commented on the team's website (team-csc.com). "I've been training very hard, but you never truly know your form until you're in a race."

The Spanish climber has been preparing at his home in the Sierra de Gredos mountains near Avila, Spain. The death of his brother-in-law José Maria Jimenez in December of 2003 sparked a difficult early season for Sastre. "I think of him every day," he said. "He's in my heart every time I ride my bicycle. He was someone very special to me. My thoughts are always with him."

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