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Tour de France Cycling News for July 12, 2005

Edited by John Stevenson

Rest day wrap: Time to get it on!

By Les Clarke

Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel)
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Nine stages down, and the 92nd edition of the Tour de France is beginning to look like a real race, a la 2003. All the pre-race contenders - Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso and Vinokourov - are looking comfortable near the top of the standings, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. As expected, the shift to higher ground has begun to sort out the contenders from the pretenders, and tomorrow should really see the race for yellow begin.

The high pace of the race so far appears to be taking its toll on the field, with 175 of the original 189 riders remaining, and as the field hits the Alps for stage 10 it's only going to get harder. There have been successful breakaways and drama in the sprints over the past nine days, with Robbie McEwen's relegation in stage 3 handing the initiative in the points competition to Tom Boonen, and Michael Rasmussen's solo break for most of yesterday's stage creating some real interest in the race for the polka dots.

After a dominant opening from Lance Armstrong that had many observers writing off the Tour for the overall prize, the fight for the yellow jersey has been fired up with solo breaks and a hint of weakness from Discovery Channel on stage 8. None of Armstrong's real challengers are more than two minutes away from the Texan.

Click here for the full round-up of the Tour so far.

Discovering Johan

Johan Bruyneel
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On the first rest day in Grenoble, just hours away before the first real mountain stage of the 2005 Tour de France, Discovery's master tactician Johan Bruyneel sat down to a press meeting that was understandably packed to the rafters. The man behind the wheel of six successful Tours de France talked about the week so far, what's driving Lance, the maillot jaune, Lance's legacy and the rest of the contenders. Anthony Tan was there for Cyclingnews.

Q: Johan, it seems like Lance has a different mindset in this year's Tour. He seems a little more relaxed - has his mindset changed in this year's Tour after making a record sixth win, and is it affecting his racing at all?

Johan Bruyneel: He's definitely relaxed, but that doesn't mean he's less focused or less motivated. I think the only pressure he has in this year's Tour is the pressure is puts on himself. Last year, nobody had been able to win six and all the big ones had failed, so there was a lot of pressure; this year, it was himself who wanted to be here and when he decided to be here, he didn't come to be second. But I can feel he's more relaxed.

Q: What are the things that motivated him this year that he didn't have in the past?

JB: Well, I think the biggest motivation is that he wants to win and that he's a champion and doesn't want to lose. I think all the champions are like that, and it's certainly the case this year. I repeat that the fact that he decided to do another Tour is his biggest motivation; once he took that decision, he completely changed his mind and his focus and really started training very seriously.

Click here for the full story.

Jan the cat falls on his feet

Jan Ullrich has had a tough Tour so far
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Banged around by a couple of crashes, Jan Ullrich has not shown as a real threat in this Tour de France - yet. Described by Lance Armstrong as the rider who motivates him to get up in the morning, Ullrich and his T-Mobile team spoke to the press on the Tour rest day about his injuries, his rivals and the coming mountain showdown on the road to Courchevel. Hedwig Kröner was there for Cyclingnews.

When T-Mobile hosted its pre-mountain Tour de France press conference this afternoon in Voreppe, just North of Lyon, the eagerly awaited Jan Ullrich appeared relaxed, but focused. Although the marks of his crash yesterday showed on his face (a bruise on his forehead, and another one just on the side of his right eye), Ullrich was in good spirits when the journalist's questions started, the first one obviously concerning his health. The team doctor Lothar Heinrich explained why he decided to take Ullrich to the hospital for some x-rays this morning.

"It has to be said that Jan's crash was bad yesterday," Heinrich said. "First, one couldn't see a lot of injuries, but once we removed his jersey the injuries were more serious than we expected. You can see the bruises on his head, and it's the same on his body, so we decided to got to a private clinic here in Grenoble this morning to see if he has any broken bones, especially ribs. But we could establish that there are no broken bones. What he does have are severe contusions to his ribs. This can be a handicap especially at maximal performance, when the breathing is very deep, and at night. Fortunately, Jan slept well last night and now, and we hope that his pain will be the least possible tomorrow. During training, he felt all right, and everything else we will see tomorrow."

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Basso looks to Pyrenees

Ivan Basso
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At CSC's rest day press conference, the team that currently holds the yellow jersey discussed its plans for the next two weeks as the race hits the mountains and designated general classification rider Ivan Basso is expected to challenge.

Basso, who finished third in last year's Tour de France, was the only rider who could stay with Lance Armstrong in the mountains in 2004. But while everyone else is looking forward to today's first severe mountain stage, Basso thinks the crucial climbs this year will not come until the Tour hits the Pyrenees.

"Everybody sees the next two days as decisive but I think that the Pyrenees will decide the winner," said Basso. "In the Pyrenees, you have two finishes at the top after several climbs. That's going to be really tough especially after the stages here [in the Alps]."

After leading the Giro d'Italia earlier this year, Basso is a favourite to threaten Lance Armstrong in this Tour, but he says his immediate ambitions are more modest> "I would love to snatch another win there as I climbed on the podium [in La Mongie] in the Pyrenees. It was a great moment."

But the results in the mountains will depend on how Basso's form compares to his rivals and he admits there's no way of being sure yet. "I'm feeling pretty good physically," he said. "But what I don't know is what shape my opponents are in ... as we didn't have any real chance to test ourselves last week. At least tomorrow will be the real test we are all looking for."

Bjarne Riis
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Basso's team manager Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour de France champion, agreed. "Tomorrow, we will know," he said. "We will know who is strong enough and who is not."

Riis hinted at the team's strategy over the next two week. If Riis has his way, we are in for fireworks in the mountains. "If you want to beat Lance, if you want to win this Tour, you have to attack, not just follow," he said.

However, it doesn't look like CSC will defend the yellow jersey at all costs. The team's ebullient German rider jens Voigt currently holds the race lead but admits he's no climber. The plan is to hand over the jersey to a team-mate, but Voigt said the team does not feel pressured to hang on to it.

"Armstrong is the one who is here to win the Tour," he said. "He has to take responsibilities in the race. The pressure is on his shoulders not on ours.

"He gave the jersey away yesterday (Sunday) but we are not going to do his job."

Julich plays role model

Bobby Julich (CSC)
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One CSC rider who is enjoying his own job is Bobby Julich. The American, who was third in the Tour in 1998, has found a new lease of life at CSC, winning the Paris-Nice stage race earlier this year. He is also enjoying acting as a mentor to the team's younger riders dave Zabriskie and Ivan Basso.

"Ivan is one of the main reasons why I'm in the team. I see a lot of me in him," said Julich. "Like me, he was 26 when he made it on the podium [in 2004] and he has had to face the same pressure. He often comes to me to ask questions. He has a lot of confidence in me and it's a huge compliment."

Julich put immense pressure on himself to perform after that Tour podium spot, but didn't perform at the very highest level again until he joined CSC in 2004. It was that or quit cycling, and he feels the chance to nurture a talent like Basso made the decision worthwhile.

"I think he learnt a lot by seeing me race, especially in time trials," said Julich. "In the Tour of the Basque Country, he followed my time trial in the car and it helped him see how I was taking curves, how I was using the course."

Although his 19-second advantage over Basso on general classification makes him an obvious candidate to take the yellow jersey if Voigt relinquishes it today, Julich has no illusions that he is a candidate for overall victory.

"Honestly, with Ivan Basso, we have a much better chance for the overall standings," he said. "Of course I have personal goals. I'd like to win a stage, and especially the last time trial in St Etienne on the penultimate day."

Cadel Evans "right on track"

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto)
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Currently sitting 25th on general classification, Davitamon-Lotto's Cadel Evans is quietly confident that he can move up the ladder in this year's Tour de France. Evans looked like a future grand tour contender when he wore the leader jersey at the 2002 Giro d'Italia for Mapei, but was plagued by injury after accepting a lucrative contract with T-Mobile. Even after he'd apparently proven himself by winning the Tour of Austria in 2004 he was left off T-Mobile's Tour de France team.

Finally riding his first Tour, the former mountain bike World Cup champion remains cautiously optimistic. On the first rest day in Grenoble, we asked Evans about the action on the Col de Schlucht Saturday, where his former T-Mobile teammates put pressure on then race leader Armstrong. "Well I saw Kloden strong, Vinokourov good, Armstrong exposed," said Evans. "The attacks from Vino were pretty much what I was expecting, but the big surprise was Armstrong on his own. His team has to come up to another level if they want to keep protecting him. T-Mobile are going to be on the attack now... but sometimes (Discovery) like to play mind games as well as physical games. They're strong and smart. Maybe they're saving themselves."

As for Evans himself, it's been a long road to finally get to the Tour de France. Evans is one of four former former fat tire specialists (along with Michael Rasmussen, Dario Cioni and Floyd Landis) who hope to shine in this years Tour de France. "So far, it's on track for me, but the hardest days are yet to come. It's early days yet, but day by day, so far it's gone good. I'm happy until this point."

Dave Z On The Mend

By Tim Maloney, European Editor

Dave Zabriskie shortly before packing it in during stage 9
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After a storybook start to this year's Tour de France, Dave Zabriskie's race had an ignominious end Sunday, as the CSC rider was forced to abandon. After his terrible head over heels crash in the final 1300m of Stage 4's team time trial, Zabriskie gamely tried to hang in there as long as possible at Le Tour, but his injuries, particularly his badly bruised ribs, and the high speed, compounded by digestive troubles likely brought on by the terrible stress on the American's body brought his Tour campaign to an end.

On Satuday's Stage 8, Zabriskie was off the back as soon as the attacks started and ended up riding with Brazilian sprinter Luciano Pagliarini all day until the final climb where the Liquigas rider dropped him.

We caught up with Zabriskie after CSC's media conference Monday in Grenoble. Despite his abandon, his girlfriend Randi had just come to France from Berkeley, California to be with her guy. Always ready with his unique sense of humor, Zabriskie took a few minutes to chat with Cyclingnews.

"My Tour came to a sudden stop," joked Zabriskie about his abandon. "I'm going to take a few days to rest up and get over my injuries and for the excitement to disappear. I'm glad about the experiences I've had at the Tour, but I'm sorry I can't be here to help the team. But the experience at the Tour de France will open up more opportunities for me. It's good for me that Randi is here; otherwise I might pull the blinds and get really depressed."

When we asked Dave what was next for him in 2005, he turned serious and explained, "mostly I want to rest up and recover and once the Tour is over, [CSC team boss] Bjarne Riis and I will discuss my program for the rest of the season."

Zabriskie will return to his European base in Girona, Spain today. After riding the Giro d'Italia and a third of the Tour de France, the American time trialing whiz may ride the Vuelta a España and will certainly be a candidate for a rainbow jersey in this year's World Elite Time Trial Championship in Madrid, Spain.

Spartacus Ready For Battle

By Tim Maloney European Editor

Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo)
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Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) was disappointed for a while with his Stage 1 time trial performance, as the Swiss TT champ had hoped for another maillot jaune like the one he won in last year's Tour de France prologue in Liege. "This race has been too fast! Unbelieveably fast," said Cancellara. "From the first kilometer, the race pace is really fast. Up until now, we're ridden at such a fast average speed! Now the mountains are coming but I hope it doesn't keep going as fast and aggressive as it has in the first week. Saturday and Sunday weren't that good for me. My strategy for the Alps is to just stay in the grupetto until the flat stages when I can go on the attack. Then I'll be in the front looking to get in the right break."

Nicknamed Spartacus by his Fassa Bortolo teammates for his resemblance to a youthful Kirk Douglas, Cancellara is seen by many in cycling as a major player in the classics and is being courted by many ProTour teams for 2006, including Discovery Channel.

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