Late Edition Cycling News for December 12, 2003
Edited by Gerard Knapp
Lance Armstrong - let's make Ullrich the favourite
Reported by Tim Maloney, Brussels
Facing what will be undoubtedly the first of many inquisitions over his
pending battle with Jan Ullrich in the 2004 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong
made a lighthearted tilt at claiming underdog status at a press conference
today in Brussels. The American rider joked, "hey, let's just start
calling him (Ullrich) the favourite from the start; and they (T-Mobile)
can do all the work in the first half of the Tour", said the five-time
winner of cycling's grandest tour.
The return of Ullrich to his German team, to be called T-Mobile in 2004,
has many of the European press gallery salivating at the prospect back
to the glory days of Telekom in the Tour. But Armstrong said he will return
even more motivated in pursuit of win number six.
USPS-Berry Floor press conference
Photo: © CN
"I'm more motivated to win a sixth Tour," he said. "After
this year's Tour, I feel I have something to prove next year, to try and
break the record. There's still lots of reasons to ride fast."
As one of only five riders to have won five Tours de France, in 2004
Armstrong has a strong chance of becoming the first rider ever to win
six Tours. His sporting exploits has also seen him become a major sporting
celebrity in the USA. However, "I'm still focused on being an athlete.
I still love cycling," he told the assembled European press at the
Brussels Le Meridien Hotel.
Armstrong's attendance at the press conference, seated alongside his
Belgian team director Johan Bruyneel, was at the invitation of the team's
presenting sponsor, Berry Floor. It coincided with the performance that
evening at the Cirque Royale theatre of American singer Sheryl Crow, currently
on tour in Europe. After the press conference, Armstrong was due out for
a training ride, building his appetite for dinner with Belgium sporting
royalty Eddy Merckx at their favourite Italian restaurant, the Piccolo
Mondo, before attending the singer's performance that evening.
Armstrong has been linked to Crow following his separation from wife
Kristin, but the questions from the European press remained focused on
the sport, not his personal life. Still, Armstrong himself alluded to
what was a very difficult year as he dealt with the emotional upheaval
of separating from his wife and their three young children. "I think
2004 should be an easier year (for me), on an emotional level. 2003 was
a challenging year."
In terms of his physical preparation, Armstrong said, he "probably
got a little too comfortable with success before the Tour this year and
took it for granted. I forgot that you also have rivals that improve and
If anyone expected Armstrong to show bitterness or grave disappointment
at the recent defection of star climber Roberto Heras, who pulled out
of his contract with USPS-Berry Floor one year short to join the team
of Liberty Serguros, they would have been disappointed.
"We have no hard feelings about it, we wish him well," he
said diplomatically of the diminutive climber's move back to a Spanish
team, run by the enigmatic Manolo Saiz. "It's better for us (USPS-Berry
Floor) to have him as an animated rider in the Tour," he added.
Next year, Armstrong will face an array of proven Grand Tour winners,
such as this year's Vuelta a Espana winner Heras, as well as Giro d'Italia
winner Gilberto Simoni, not to mention Ullrich. It seems the underdog
status may indeed suit Armstrong, as the blue train can wait and watch
the hopefuls attack each other relentlessly.
(A more detailed report will follow soon.)
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