Cycling News Extra for April 20, 2004
Edited by John Stevenson
Armstrong avoids hoopla; Cipollini seeking new adventures in Georgia
By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Macon, Georgia
In a media conference in Macon, Georgia on Monday, Lance Armstrong, Mario Cipollini and other contenders for the 2004 Dodge Tour de Georgia crown like Bobby Julich and Chris Horner were all excited about the seven stage race that kicks off in the central Georgia city on Monday. USPS-Berry Floor team director Johan Bruyneel analyzed the parcours of the race as "balanced with two hard stages and a time trial. There will be a selection in the TT and then I see the best guys ahead in the mountains. USPS-Berry Floor is here to win as a team and the competition is riders like Bobby Julich, Jens Voigt and Chris Horner".
Despite all the pre-race hoopla, Lance Armstrong played down his chances of victory in the Tour de Georgia, but didn't count himself out completely. "I don't think I have the condition to win here; it's been three weeks since I've raced and I know the other guys have raced more than me. But I've felt good in training so we'll see," said the five time Tour de France winner. And Armstrong didn't mince words about what's on his mind. "The Tour [de France] is my one and only focus," he said. When asked if this year could be his swan song if the USPS team folds, the Texan wasn't quite ready to write his own epitaph yet. "My first priority is to continue with (USPS) program," he said.
On his preparation for the Tour in July, Armstrong is adamant that the time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez will be crucial. "L'Alpe occupies a lot of my time; I want to ride it like it's my home course." Armstrong revealed that he expects to ride the climb during his preparation perhaps 8-10 times before the Tour. But Armstrong's mind is currently on Georgia and it seemed that he was looking forward to racing in the Peach State that likely evokes fond memories of his Tour DuPont win in 1996 which finished in Atlanta. "It's good to have a European style stage race with a time-trial and uphill finish here in the US," said Lance. "There's a lot of bicycles hanging in American garages but not enough people ride them."
Mario Cipollini was also looking forward to the adventure of racing in America again, his first time to turn a pedal in anger in the States since his participation in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. "I came here to break up the monotony of European racing and to get in shape for a tough Giro d'Italia. I've never won a race in the US so that would be nice too." Super Mario offered a fascinating look into his psyche when asked about his thoughts on retirement. "One of the best things now is that at this point in my career, I can choose what I want to do. It's the first time I could ever do that. But at this point, I'm not thinking about retirement."
Last year's Tour de Georgia winner Chris Horner of Team Webcor didn't seem too intimidated by the competition, but the freckle-faced Horner never is. "I left my house about three months ago to train and race around the country and so far it's been good," he said. Horner has won everything in the US this year and has clearly shown he's the top domestic US cyclist. "I've got great legs now and think I can be competitive with the best riders here," explained the ambitious Horner.
Unlike Armstrong, CSC's Bobby Julich is at the Tour de Georgia to win. "This is a big race for all the Americans; we're all racing against the guy who's won the Tour five times, so we're not going to hand it to him on a silver platter," said Julich, who is having his best season in years at CSC. But neither Julich nor Horner is underestimating the power of Armstrong. When asked how formidable of an athlete Armstrong is, Horner candidly explained that "it depends on his legs... if he's fit, we're in for a world of suffering. Then I'll have to switch tactics and go for stage wins." But Julich, Horner and Armstrong's other foes will still have to wait for Thursday's TT to reach for Plan B at this year's Tour de Georgia.
More photos from the press conference
Images by Beth Seliga/www.3catsphoto.com
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