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Tour de France News for July 5, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Armstrong will start in yellow

No blue for Armstrong
Photo: © AFP
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Despite saying in a press conference yesterday that he would not wear the yellow jersey in the Tour prologue because he hadn't earned it, Lance Armstrong has now decided to start in yellow. Cyclingnews has learned that Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc made a personal appeal to Armstrong to wear the Maillot Jaune, out of respect to the founder of the Tour, Henri Desgranges. The jersey will have Desgrange's initials printed on it this year, and Lance has agreed to Jean-Marie Leblanc's request.

 

Team Bianchi, reborn

By Chris Henry in Paris
Jan Ullrich
Photo: © CN
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Team Bianchi was presented to the press on Friday at the Tour de France, where Jan Ullrich, Angel Casero and Fabrizio Guidi were on hand to answer questions about the race and their prospects. It was a proud moment for the Bianchi team management, eager to introduce the historic bicycle brand to a new audience and rekindle the excitement of past teams and successes.

Given the way in which the team has emerged in 2003, from the ashes of the failed Team Coast, questions remain about just how much Ullrich and his teammates can do at this year's Tour. As has been typically been his response, Ullrich was eager to emphasise that this year's Tour carries no particular burden for him in the way of expectations and results. Nonetheless, the 1997 Tour winner appeared fit, relaxed, and ready to tackle the race he missed last year, no doubt invigorated by the birth of his first child just days ago.

"The whole team is very motivated, and we're very proud to be in the Tour de France," Ullrich said.

One of Ullrich's key teammates, former Vuelta a España winner Angel Casero, echoed these sentiments, and downplayed any notion that the two leaders might not form a perfect alliance. Indeed Casero showed a little more willingness to refer to a possible challenge to Lance Armstrong's Tour reign. "If we could work together to beat Lance Armstrong that would be fantastic," Casero said. "It's not important who might be on the podium, what's important is that it's someone from the team."

The Bianchi team was cobbled together from the remnants of Team Coast, and the team's riders did not enjoy the best preparation for the Tour between the team's financial demise and its suspensions from competition this spring. Ullrich acknowledged these difficulties, but is ready to look ahead to a strong showing in 2003, and a goal of victory in the 2004 Tour.

"Of course we had problems," he said, "but we made it through and we're perhaps even stronger because of the difficulties. Being a new team, nobody knows what to expect from us, and that could be good for a surprise."

Casero weighed in once more. "From the point we knew that there was a solution, we returned to normal and were able to train again," he explained. "We've succeeded in creating a great team that's very unified."

The Bianchi team line is that there are no expectations, other than to have a good showing and make a positive Tour debut for the newly reborn Bianchi name. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine that the team, and two grand tour winners such as Casero and Ullrich, won't harbour reasonably big ambitions for the centenary Tour de France.

Gilberto Simoni interview

Gilberto Simoni
Photo: © Sirotti
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On the eve of the Tour, Saeco's top man Gilberto Simoni was grilled by the press about his preparation, motivation, and his favourite rival, Lance Armstrong.

Q: The Tour has been defined as more than just a sporting event and even more than a show. It has been defined as a mental state. Do you agree?

GS: Some riders have much more experience of the Tour than I have but I agree that there is a special feeling. As we wait for the race to start in Paris I can feel the tension building. I'd say the Tour, this Tour is a huge emotion which everybody should try.

Q: Are you happy with your build-up to the race?

GS: My feelings are different compared to other events but I'm motivated and so I'm happy. I know I've made a lot of sacrifices so that I can be competitive at the Tour. I've given up a lot of things even after winning the Giro.

Q: You've never stopped racing during this season...

GS: That's how you get results, thanks to constantly improving your fitness and thanks to the enthusiasm that good results give you and convince you of your ability. This year my win at the Giro del Trentino set me up for a great Giro. The pink jersey of the Giro has in turn set me up for the Tour de France. Now we'll see what happens...

Q: You are one of Armstrong's major rivals, that's a big responsibility.

GS: Yes but I don't feel any pressure because of it. When I see him on Saturday I'll give him a pat on the back and say: 'I'm in the race as well'.

Q: Is it a duel?

GS: No, it's just that I'm convinced I can do well. I went to see some of the Tour climbs because I want to do everything right. I've memorised every corner of certain climbs and descents.

Q: Last year there wasn't a duel but Armstrong was worried about you...

GS: We went up against each other at the Tour of Switzerland in 2001. He was first and I was second. He learnt then that I can climb. It was a pity that we didn't race against each other in 2002. That route was more suitable to me.

Q: So are your hopes and ambitions limited?

GS: No, because if on one hand the route doesn't really suit me, on the other I'm convinced I've got a strong team and that will be very important in the first week.

Q: Indeed, the first few stages are full of dangers.

GS: Also because the big mountains come early on in the race. The Alps will be decisive after just a week, especially L'Alpe d'Huez, but I've memorised everything, every corner.

Q: And what do you think about the team time trial?

GS: I've been thinking about it for several days. I think we can do well and be very competitive. I've got a lot of faith in my team.

Q: But naturally you will have to wait for the big mountains to play your best cards.

GS: Armstrong definitely doesn't frighten me on the climbs and he knows it.

Q: How would you summarise your Tour?

GS: People ask me to beat Armstrong. That's a big responsibility. Most of all I know I have to beat myself. If I can perform better than what I think I can, give it everything, I'm sure I'll have a great Tour, it's guaranteed.

Q: What would be the most exciting thing for you in this Tour?

GS: To be able to drop Armstrong in the mountains, to make him suffer, and then not give up.

Q: The idea of racing hard seems to motivate you more than anything else.

GS: I'm not afraid of suffering even if I admit I don't like it. But my existence is about sufferance and riding my bike and seeing new things and new situations.

Q: You said several times that the birth of your daughter Sofia has been decisive in this great moment in your life. Is that true?

GS: My daughter is another great emotion and I live for emotions like that.

Live Tour coverage

As it has done in previous years, Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of every stage of the Tour de France, from beginning to end. The action kicks off with Saturday's prologue at 15:50 CEST (7:00 PDT/10:00 EDT/23:50 AEST). Be sure not to miss it!

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