Tour de France News for May 24, 2004
Edited by Chris Henry & Gerard Knapp
Lance Armstrong (USPS-Berry Floor)
Photo ©: AFP
By winning the final
stage of the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France, Lance
Armstrong achieved exactly what he said he hoped to achieve, just over
a month before the start of the Tour de France. Armstrong and his US Postal
Service team arrived at the tour with ambitions of testing the machinery
in the final build-up to the Tour, but despite his status as defending
champion of the race formerly run as the Midi Libre (Armstrong won in
2002, the race was not held in 2003), the American maintained overall
victory was not important.
US Postal did indeed prove the "blue train" was on the right track, taking
the race by the scruff of the neck in a windy and tactical stage 2, and
the indefatigable Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov came within a bike length
of victory in stage 4.
"I came to win a stage, so I'm satisfied," Armstrong said after the race.
"I was disappointed with my legs on Saturday, but things went very well
"I'm also quite satisfied with my team, particularly my new teammate
José Azevedo," he added. "Yesterday, Eki came close to winning
a stage but Christophe Moreau was too strong. Today it was up to me..."
La bonne surprise
Photo ©: AFP
"I came to the Tour de Languedoc-Roussillon to get my head back on my
shoulders," explained overall race winner Christophe Moreau (Crédit
Agricole). "Winning here was more than I hoped for."
Moreau claimed his second win of the season when he muscled past US Postal
Service's Viatcheslav Ekimov in the closing metres of stage 4, maintaining
his advantage in the general classification on the race's final stage
Sunday, won by Ekimov's team leader Lance Armstrong. For Crédit
Agricole the race was a total success. Moreau's teammate Thor Hushovd
won the first two stages, only losing the early race lead to Moreau on
the fourth day.
"Saturday [stage 4] I only made the effort to get into the early break
for the fun of it, and I went all the way," Moreau said happily. "I won,
and the overall victory at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, for me, was
Moreau faced a difficult early season, sidelined as he has been in recent
years by an injury, this time a knee injury sustained in one of his team's
first training camps. After abandoning most of his early racing efforts
this spring, the Frenchman found winning form for the first time at the
Trophée des Grimpeurs at the beginning of the month.
Serge Beucherie, Moreau's directeur sportif, shared in his leader's satisfaction
with this latest victory. "Coming here, I told Christophe he couldn't
abandon because he needs these races to be competitive at the Tour de
France," Beucherie told Reuters. "I also told him to take advantage
and enjoy himself rather than worry about an unlikely final result."
Moreau wants Tour podium
Christophe Moreau, whose best Tour de France performance remains a fourth
place overall in 2000, believes the final podium in Paris is within his
grasp. Thanks to overall victory at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon,
a key Tour tune-up for many of July's likely protagonists, the Crédit
Agricole leader is brimming with confidence after a disappointing spring
season plagued by injury.
"At 33 years old, I feel like I'm still progressing, that I've finding
myself every day," Moreau commented in l'Equipe. "I've already
finished fourth in the Tour de France but I believe I can reach the podium.
I've learned how not to be dropped, particularly mentally."
Moreau won his first race this season at the Trophée des Grimpeurs
at the beginning of the month, but difficulty in the subsequent Four Days
of Dunkirk, which he won the year before, kept his confidence in check.
"I had moments of doubt right after my win at Grimpeurs," he explained.
"To win a race like the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, that gives you wings
and boosts the morale.
"Next, the Dauphiné becomes an objective, even if I know I'm a
bit behind physically. It's a race that really counts before the Tour...
It's really an enormous satisfaction to have kept the yellow jersey [at
Languedoc-Roussillon]. I've rediscovered some serenity."
Chavanel wants a stage
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches La Boulangère) has reclaimed his position
as one of France's top young talents with successive stage race victories
in this year's Four Days of Dunkirk and the Tour of Belgium. About to
turn 25, Chavanel has struggled with illness through much of the early
season, but has turned a corner with his two victories this year and the
experience that leading (and winning) a stage race can bring.
"Nobody came up to help us, not one turn of the pedal," Chavanel commented
after a difficult defense of his leader's jersey in the animated
final stage of the Tour of Belgium. His young Brioches La Boulangère
team managed to reel in a dangerous break, featuring potential winner
Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo), and Chavanel emerged victorious, "on my own
"At the beginning of the season, I was always struggling with a cold
or bronchitis," Chavanel said. "I could never really reach 100%, but my
first win at the Four Days of Dunkirk helped get things going."
As for the Tour de France, Chavanel now has a unique team leader, Joseba
Beloki. However the young Frenchman still expects to have some opportunities
of his own in addition to helping Beloki in the general classification.
"A stage win would be great, but in the mountains I'll be there to help
Beloki," Chavanel explained. "After that, the general classification comes
on its own."
Confidence grows for Phonak
Martin Elmiger (Phonak), winner of stage 3 at the Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon,
received the confidence boost he needed with the team's first participation
in the Tour de France approaching quickly. Elmiger, 25, could be a key
lieutenant for teammate Tyler Hamilton, who this year for the first time
in his career will ride as sole leader at the Tour. Elmiger's victory
was his first of the season and number eight for Phonak, which dramatically
improved its roster in the off-season.
"I have shown repeatedly that I'm capable of great things," Elmiger commented
on his team's website. "If my morale is right, everything goes much better.
As long as I have good legs, I can take the lead. That applies to a classic
or a tour stage."
As for the Tour, Elmiger added simply, "If my condition continues to
improve, nothing is impossible."
Another man showing great confidence is Phonak CEO Andy Rihs, who has
placed his faith firmly on the shoulders of team leader Hamilton. Rihs
says without hesitation that victory Paris is within the realm of possibility.
"The chances of that are very good, at the very least," he said. "I believe
that, barring bad luck or accidents, two Americans will be standing on
the winners podium in Paris. We are preparing meticulously. All we have
to do now is 'dot the i'. It will be a gigantic test of strength."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)