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Team camp report, January 27, 2004
Part one: Lance Armstrong - goals and changes
At a press conference Friday in Solvang, California, Lance Armstrong and other members of the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team presented by Berry Floor talked about the team's schedule for this year, the arrival of new team members and the departure of others. Kristy Scrymgeour reports on a team that's full of confidence for a new season.
Besides the hanging question of whether Armstrong will race in the US this year, the other questions directed at him during the press conference were whether he is concerned about being beaten in the Tour time trial last year by Ullrich and also whether he is going to be ready for the Tour, as it was pointed out that he seems to be a bit more relaxed about the training this year.
To the latter Armstrong answered, "Life is still as busy as it always was and the training has not changed all that much. My profile has just changed a little in the media. So when people see that I am attending a movie premiere at 7:30pm they start to worry," he laughed. "I can tell you that there's not one professional cyclist that I know that goes to bed at 7:30pm. I'm not just sitting on the beach all day eating doughnuts; I know what I'm doing."
In terms of his race program, Armstrong said that the team would follow pretty much the same program as last year, with the exception of a race in the US. "We'll start in Portugal then go onto Milan-San Remo, the Criterium International and of course the Tour de France," he said. "We're still working on the domestic program. There will definitely be one US race in there, either Tour de Georgia or Tour of the Gila, we're not quite sure yet," he said.
"I'll spend about six weeks here," he added, "although I don't know exactly where I will train. It's tough to find the right place in April. It's still too cold in Colorado but we'll be looking for a place that has long hard climbs and no traffic. California is as good a place as any. So it could be here. It's too early to head to the Pyrenees yet. You can't really get into that area. We've made the mistake of trying to go too early before and we won't be doing that again."
The Olympics is a goal for all riders this year and Armstrong is no different. However, Armstrong pointed out how hard it will be for athletes to back up for the race with the Tour de France ending just 20 days earlier. "They have to select me first though," he said. "It will be tough. The first 20 days after the Tour de France are very tough. Potentially the best riders at the Olympics are those that don't go to the Tour de France, or those who ride the Tour as preparation for the Olympics. If you are giving the Tour everything it will be tough to ride well at the Olympics."
Armstrong explained that he didn't think this year's Tour was going to be too much different from previous years, apart from the time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez. "I see this year's Tour as a similar Tour to 2002, especially the first two mountain days. The biggest difference is the new rule in the time trial [maximum loss of 2.5 minutes for any team]. I still don't understand this rule but it's their race and they're free to make the rules. If there's a team who knows at the half way mark that they aren't going to make the time cut, then they'll just sit up and rest for the next day."
As for being beaten in one of the time trials last year, he wasn't that concerned and urged others that it's not something they should really be concerned about either. "I gotten beaten for many reasons in the first time trial last year, but it was mainly because Jan was better than me," he assured the skeptics. "Since then we have looked at bike positioning and equipment and we have made a few changes. There's no reason to be concerned about that, it's not like I went from being the best time trialler in the world to being the worst. Everything's coming along well now."
During the press conference, Armstrong talked about the training camp and was enthusiastic to talk about the team changes and the new young guys in the team this year. With the camp being so relaxed and no need to be training too intensely at this time of year, the main goal has been to get everyone together and take a look at the young guys.
"It's really the only chance to get all 25 riders and 25 staff together at the same time and it's simply a good way to get the season started," said Armstrong. "We have a bigger team this year. We have 25 guys so we've been trying to split it up a bit out training. [Solvang] is a fantastic place and we have been blessed with the weather. I thought last year we were blessed, but this year has been just as good."
The team has seen a couple of high-profile departures during the off-season in Roberto Heras and Christian VandeVelde. "Heras was obvious, said Armstrong. "He went to a Spanish team and Liberty Seguros wanted a Spanish rider. Financially and professionally it was good for him. Christian was different. I think he felt he had the chance to get himself back into some of the bigger races for his career. In both of those cases there's no hard feelings. We still live in the same town in Spain. We wish them well and it will be a good experience for them. Manolo [Sáiz] is a good director and he'll get the best out of them.
"Obviously the loss of Roberto was hard," he added, "but Johan [Bruyneel] is not the type of guy to just sit back. As soon as we even had a feeling that Heras might leave, Johan was looking out for someone else. He found Azevedo. It was a big job. Azevedo was already under contract with another team, so we had to buy him out.
"We're confident that he can do the same job that Roberto did. If you look at past videos of the Tour you'll see why. He was always a rider we had to mark. We could never let him get a lot of time in a break because he was always up there in the mountains and he's a good time trialler as well. He comes from a very strong team and he is a very well rounded rider with a lot of experience and committed to the team."
As for the Classics riders, Armstrong commented on the team's strength in this department. "We have a good group of riders for the Classics," he said. "Between George Hincapie, Max Van Heeswijk, Stijn Devolder and Viatcheslav Ekimov, it's pretty strong. Max is very strong already here at camp and of course Eki, he doesn't show up to races without being ready."
One notable feature of the 2004 line up is the number of Belgian riders in the squad. "We have a lot of Belgians on the team this year," said Armnstrong. "I really trust the Belgians. They know cycling better than most people. I first met the two new Belgians [Stijn Devolder and Jurgen Van Den Broeck] in Austin [in November]. They seemed pretty nervous which is understandable. They have warmed up now though. They still don't say much, but that's okay. We have plenty of people here who don't stop!"
Commenting on the new young guys, Armstrong said that he was impressed with Michael Creed already. "He came to us in a funny way. He writes these articles online and we thought there was no way a guy like that would be on the Postal team! But he has told me since that those articles are just a release for him and that it's not the kind of person he really is. He is good and strong."
He added that Benjamin Noval is strong on the flat and Patrick McCarty is very smart and got some great results as an amateur. "He comes from a town very close to where I come from in Austin and I never thought there would be anyone on the team that came from Northern Texas," said Armstrong.
Armstrong believes that team newcomer Dave Zabriskie is "one of the best talents we have. His crash last year really set him back but he is a complete rider, very strong and he time trials well. Now is the time for him to leap to the next level."
Finally, to finish off the press conference Armstrong was asked some advice about dealing with cancer. His message to cancer sufferers was to "be involved and ask a lot of questions. Study your illness and stay focused. Don't just sit back. It's your life you're talking about."