By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright AFP2003
Lance Armstrong said Sunday that “mathematics” was not foremost on his mind as he prepared to continue his Tour de France preparations by racing the Dauphine Libere. Armstrong, the U.S. Postal team leader, is aiming for a record-equaling fifth Tour victory this year and, as usual, is riding the Dauphine Libere stage race this week as part of the build-up. The race, in the south-east of France, includes some key climbing stages which will give the 31-year-old Texan a good indication of his fitness less than four weeks before the July 5 start of this year’s centenary race.
But he refrained from speaking about equaling Spaniard Miguel Indurain’s five-in-a-row victory (1990-1995), and maintained that a renewed Jan Ullrich could still prove to be a spanner in the works.
“Last year I won the Midi Libre, so I knew I had race condition and could race to win again. In training I feel strong but I’m not sure I’m ready to win (here),” said Armstrong, who won the Dauphine last year ahead of team-mate Floyd Landis.
“The primary objective is to make sure that everything is in order. The most important thing is the sensations and how I feel in this race.”
Ullrich, who only made it to this year’s Tour after a new team, Bianchi, formed around him after the collapse of the 29-year-old’s former team Coast, has not raced against Armstrong on the Tour since 2001.
The German came second behind Armstrong then, his fourth runner-up spot in all, and Armstrong feels that Ullrich, having won the race in 1997 and appearing in better condition than usual, could still prove a threat.
“He’s clearly had a complicated spring, but he looks to be in better shape than in the past,” added the American. “His status or situation doesn’t change for me. He’s still one of the biggest engines in cycling and still one of the biggest threats.”
As well as Ullrich, Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni – the recent winner of the Giro for a second time – has openly stated he intends to challenge Armstrong in the mountains this year.
However, the American, who only really concentrates on one big Tour a year, replied that it was easier for the Saeco team leader to talk about winning than actually doing it. “They all talk the big talk. It’s the same every year, but talk is cheap,” Armstrong said. “I prefer not to talk, I prefer to work and do my training with the team. The ideal thing for me would be if Ullrich and Simoni raced against each other. If Ullrich does well in the time trials, then Simoni will have to attack in the mountains. It isn’t just Lance Armstrong out there.”
But Armstrong admitted nonetheless to keeping informed of his rivals.
“I’m keeping tabs. I’m always watching, whether it’s on TV or on the Internet. I’m always paying attention,” he said.
Armstrong said that to join the ranks of the Tour’s five-Tour winners – Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Benard Hinault and Indurain – he would be taking it one stage at a time.
“My first priority is to win again, or to try to win again,” Armstrong said. “If that means equaling the record I’ll be honored.”
The Dauphine Libere started Sunday with a 5.1km time trial and continues until Sunday June 15.