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92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005
An interview with Marcel Wüst, July 1, 2005
7 threats for Armstrong's 7
With less than a day to go before the start of a hopefully epic 92nd Tour de France, everybody asks the same questions: What will this year's race bring? How will the story unfold? Who will win which stage, who will end up in Yellow, Green and Polka Dots? At the Tour's mobile HQ in Challans, Cyclingnews Hedwig Kröner caught up with a guy who once won a bunch sprint in front of the likes of Erik Zabel and Tom Steels, but wearing the Polka Dot mountain jersey: Marcel Wüst.
That was back in 2000, and in that same summer the former pro sprinter was forced to quit his job when a bad crash almost cost him his life, but definitely took away the sight in one of his eyes, making further racing impossible even after his recovery. Nonetheless, Wüst remained inside the pro cycling circus, using his countless contacts to work for various teams as a press officer, as well as expert commentator for German TV broadcaster ARD.
CN: Marcel, who's your favourite for tomorrow's time trial?
Marcel Wüst: Michael Rich. I'm convinced he can pull it off, and I would really be happy for him. Gerolsteiner deserves a big win like that. But of course, the usual suspects like Ullrich, Armstrong, Cancellara, maybe Botero and the other time trial specialists will also be there. But it's hard to say as we haven't seen them seriously race against each other just before the Tour. There will definitely be big time differences with the head- and side wind coming from the sea, so it will surely reveal who's hot and who's not...
CN: Do you think that Armstrong will want the Yellow jersey from day one?
MW: He will ride at full speed, that's for sure! But I think he doesn't care whether that will bring him the jersey right away. If Cancellara wins and Armstrong is at one second, and Ullrich at 20, then that's important. The time gaps between the GC contenders count. Basso has made substantial progress against the clock, but Heras or Mayo...they'll be put off by one minute tomorrow.
CN: With Petacchi missing, Fassa Bortolo will not take on the race responsibility for the sprint stages in the first week. Whose teams are stronger, Boonen's (Quickstep) or those of the Australians, McEwen (Davitamon), Cooke (Francaise des Jeux) and O'Grady (Cofidis)?
MW: To take control over the last few kilometres, Quickstep is super, but Davitamon too, with Fred Rodriguez who's also a sprinter. Boonen has Van Bon and Knaven - it's pretty leveled out between the two squads. It's basically down to the top sprinters against each other.
CN: What's your bet for the Green jersey?
MW: It'll be tight! Unlike in the days of Erik Zabel, where nobody stood a chance anymore during the final week anyway, competition will be wide open. Hushovd is a self-proclaimed candidate, as well as O'Grady, who's extremely fast in bunch finishes but also a guy who can get over medium size mountains fairly well and take intermediate points. Valverde could too, but his aim is to see how far on GC he can get. I talked to him today, and he wants to find out where he's at in comparison with the greatest. It's his first Tour, and he looks forward to the mountains so he won't go flat out in bunch sprints because it's too risky, and burns too much energy too soon in the Tour.
CN: Let's talk about the mountains - what's your opinion of the Spanish?
MW: Heras and Mayo are in top form. Beloki is still trying to get it back. He told me today that if this Tour turns out to be a disaster for him he will seriously think about his career - or the remains of it - and maybe quit.
CN: The mountains will be even more decisive this year...
MW: Yes, that's true. There are fewer time trial kilometres altogether. There will be some differences as soon as Saturday, but at the last time trial, the major GC contenders are in front anyway. Plus: That parcours is more difficult, very hilly - except the last five kilometres, there is nothing flat there. That's an advantage for the climbers, too.
CN: Who do you think will aim for the mountain's jersey?
MW: The French are keen! I asked Moncoutié about it and he was all go, Moreau has already proclaimed it his goal; Mayo might go for it, if he loses time in the first week, which I don't hope for but if ever it happens, then the likes of Moncoutié will have a tough time facing him. It will be somebody aims at it specifically, but also someone who excels at the bigger mountains, not only the little climbs. Ullrich could do it, too.
CN: As for the Yellow jersey, do you also foresee another duel Ullrich vs. Armstrong?
MW: That's not really my point of view. It would be logical, because Ullrich has been up against him so many times, but I can see Basso just as strong, for instance. Maybe not in the time trials, but Ullrich will have some rivals in the mountains, judging from the latest races.
For me, Armstrong is the eternal Patron with a 51 percent chance of winning, and the others share the remaining 49. That's seven percent each: Ullrich, Vinokourov, Basso, Heras, Mayo, Botero, Landis. Botero might focus on stage wins though. Landis has achieved some great rides last year when he was still with US Postal, so Armstrong does have a lot of former helpers against him now. And they're all saying: 'I've learned a lot from Lance with regard to preparation.'
So to talk about the Tour being a duel - even if that is a possibility in the end - is utter nonsense right now. The Tour is wide open - behind Armstrong. He is still the icon, the one to beat, who has prepared for the Tour in his perfect fashion, just like in the other years where he was simply the best. And the best one deserves to win - that's cycling!