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Friday’s Eurofile: Armstrong at the Dauphine; Kelme’s troubles and Spain’s Tour hopes

Lance Armstrong is poised for his second major victory of the 2002 seasongoing into this weekend's finale of the Criterium du Dauphine Libere. Thethree-time Tour de France champion retained the overall lead in Friday'sfifth stage and remains 16 seconds ahead of U.S. Postal Service teammateFloyd Landis.Armstrong, a winner at the Midi Libre in May, faces an old nemesis inSaturday's 145-km climbing stage through the French Alps: the Col de JouxPlane. Armstrong "bonked" on the narrow, steep climb on Joux Plane in the2000 Tour and nearly lost the race when he didn't eat enough

By Andrew Hood

Lance Armstrong is poised for his second major victory of the 2002 seasongoing into this weekend’s finale of the Criterium du Dauphine Libere. Thethree-time Tour de France champion retained the overall lead in Friday’sfifth stage and remains 16 seconds ahead of U.S. Postal Service teammateFloyd Landis.Armstrong, a winner at the Midi Libre in May, faces an old nemesis inSaturday’s 145-km climbing stage through the French Alps: the Col de JouxPlane. Armstrong “bonked” on the narrow, steep climb on Joux Plane in the2000 Tour and nearly lost the race when he didn’t eat enough going intothe stage. He recovered and went on to win his second Tour.Armstrong finished safely in the bunch in Friday’s fifth stage 206 kmfrom Digne to Grenoble. Frederic Guesdon (FDJ) won ahead of SantiagoBotero (Kelme) and Laurent Jalabert (CSC-Tiscali) as part ofa 13-rider breakaway that finished ahead of the main group.Armstrong has been solid throughout the 54th Dauphine, his final warm-uprace going into the July 6 start of the 89th Tour de France. He finishedamong the leaders in Tuesday’s climbing stage to Mont Ventoux and finishedsecond behind stage-winner Botero (Kelme) in Wednesday’s individual timetrial to take the overall lead.Saturday’s sixth stage features three category-one climbs early in thestage and the beyond-category climb at Joux Plane before dropping intoMorzine for the stage finish. Sunday’s final stage is 150 km from Morzineto Geneve, which includes a category-two climb midway through the raceand 10 laps on a finishing circuit in Geneve.”Saturday’s stage is very, very hard with several climbs including theJoux Plane,” said U.S. Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel. “On theother hand, it’s time for the USPS team to start defending a jersey. Wedid it for only one day this year at the Midi Libre. It’s good trainingand a good way for us to get used to the team system of defending the jersey.If Armstrong hangs onto the lead through Saturday’s hard climbing stageand Sunday’s finale, he would become only the third American to win theDauphine. Greg LeMond won in 1983 after French race Pascal Simonwas disqualified for doping. Tyler Hamilton won the overall in 2000,thanks to a lot of help from Armstrong. Jonathon Vaughters finishedsecond overall in 1999.”I feel our team here is strong,” Bruyneel continued. “All are possibleTour (de France) riders. It will be a good test to see how everyone is.It will also be a good test for me, to get used to the tactics again. It’stime to get going.”
 Kelme’s troubles not over yet
Spain’s Kelme team is still foundering despite assurances that backwages would be paid to riders.Kelme’s co-sponsor, the regional government of Spain’s Alicante region,promises to pay racers late wages dating back three months by early nextweek.”There have been bureaucratic delays in acquiring the money to helppay the racers. We hope to have this resolved next week,” Julio de Españatold the Spanish MARCA newspaper. España said he’s been incommunication with Kelme’s director Vicente Belda to assure the racersthat the wages are “in the mail,” but that promise has been made before.”We are in the final stages. It’s as if we’re in a hospital waitingfor some bad news,” Belda told the Spanish newspaper AS. “We havefamilies involved and people need to pay their mortgages. We need to knowwhat is going to happen. The cyclists deserve a big hand. Not only havewe continued to race despite not being paid, we’ve raced to win. We don’tdeserve what is happening.”Meanwhile, riders’ confidence in the team is waning. Angel Viciosohas already signed a two-year contract to start racing with ONCE at theend of this season. There are rumors that the team’s stars — OscarSevilla and Santiago Botero – want to leave. Sevilla’s reportedlyalready has been offered a deal with the Telekom team and two other non-Spanishteams for the 2003 season and beyond.Botero also reportedly has an offer on the table, but both riders areunder contract with Kelme for 2003 and have expensive buy-out clauses.The team is not taking any chances and is hoping to sign a deal withCaja Duero, a Spanish bank, to be a co-sponsor for the upcoming Tour deFrance.Spaniards hope to see Armstrong’s human side
Spanish riders and teams continue to believe in their chances to dethroneLance Armstrong at the Tour de France. Following the recent successes ofibanesto.com (Denis Menchov won the Dauphine stage up Mont Ventouxon Tuesday), ONCE (winner of the Tour of Germany) and Kelme (first andsecond at Classique les Alpes with Botero and Sevilla, respectively, andBotero’s victory in the Dauphine time trial), Spanish riders believe thetime is ripe, though they realize it will be difficult to derail the Texan.”Armstrong isn’t looking as strong as he has in the past,” said Kelme’sdirector Vicente Belda. “He will have a more difficult time in the mountainsthan he’s had in the past, but Armstrong is the favorite.”Armstrong has said his biggest rival – with the absence of Jan Ullrich– will be the ONCE squad. Joseba Beloki, third overall in the 2000and 2001 Tours, and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano will deliver whatdirector sportif Manolo Saiz hopes is a lethal 1-2 punch.Galdeano recently beat Armstrong at the Midi Libre time trial in May,but Armstrong came back to take the overall victory. Galdeano, speakingwith the Spanish MARCA newspaper, said Armstrong is strong, but not super-human.”Last year Armstrong beat everyone and if he’s the same this year Idon’t see how he can be beat,” Galdeano said. “But Armstrong is human,and just like happened to Indurain, at some point somebody will be beathim. We go to the Tour with these goals, realizing that he is human andthat he can be beat.”