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Lance speaks out

For the first week of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong had little to say to the media, usually only a few brief words on leaving the team bus to go to sign-in in the morning, or after the race going from the bus to the car taking him to the team hotel. But after his consecutive stage wins in the Alps, the two-time defending champion spoke at length during the obligatory stage-winner’s press conferences. Among the issues that the U.S. Postal Service leader addressed were the upcoming stages in the Pyrénées, his continued improvement year after year, and his relationship with his former

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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer

Armstrong about former teammate Livingston: And it’s awkward to see him riding on the front in a pink jersey

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Armstrong's dedication to the Tour looks to be paying off.

Armstrong’s dedication to the Tour looks to be paying off.

Photo: Graham Watson

For the first week of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong had little to say to the media, usually only a few brief words on leaving the team bus to go to sign-in in the morning, or after the race going from the bus to the car taking him to the team hotel. But after his consecutive stage wins in the Alps, the two-time defending champion spoke at length during the obligatory stage-winner’s press conferences. Among the issues that the U.S. Postal Service leader addressed were the upcoming stages in the Pyrénées, his continued improvement year after year, and his relationship with his former teammate Kevin Livingston, who is now working for Armstrong’s main rival, Jan Ullrich, on the Telekom team.

(Editor’s Note: A reminder that today is a rest day for the Tour riders. Racing resumes tomorrow in the Pyrenees, with a 166km stage from Perpignan to Ax-les-Thermes.)

One of the more interesting statements was Armstrong’s declaration that he thinks he can be even better in years to come:

“Every year, as I get older, I work harder. To me, the easiest way to judge that is by the training camps that we do. We’ve done this for three years. The first year it was just with Tyler [Hamilton] and Kevin [Livingston]. Last year I did it with Tyler, Kevin, [Viatcheslav] Ekimov and Patrick Jonker. This year I did it with Tyler, Roberto [Heras], Chechu [Jose Luis Rubiera] and [Victor Hugo] Peña. I can refer back to those, and I know that we’ve attacked those camps harder and harder every year — it’s almost like a race now.

“We come to these places and these stages and train really really hard. I think as I get older and I think that perhaps my career is coming to an end, obviously you don’t get better every year. You get to a certain age, I don’t know if it’s 30 or 31, you stop improving. So you have to look for certain advantages in certain areas.

“I still believe there’s another level of Lance Armstrong. And I think that level is going to be found through hard work. I did do a couple of new things this year. I’ve implemented a lot of stretching, implemented a lot of abdominal work — it doesn’t have too much to do with cycling, but in my mind, it helps, the stretching especially. Up to this Tour I’ve been doing about an hour a day of stretching.”

Of the days to come in this year’s Tour, Armstrong said that he’ll have to be more conservative than those first two days in the mountains, and that he’s always aware that he could have a bad day at any time.

“Everybody knows that the past two Tours, there’s been a pattern. Sestrière, Hautacam, Alpe d’Huez. But if you also look at those Tours, people will also realize that at some point in those Tours, I paid the price. I paid in ’99 on Soulor, when I was almost dropped by [Fernando] Escartin. I paid last year on Joux Plane into Morzine [where Armstrong suffered badly from not eating enough]. So this year having done big efforts, I have to be very aware that there’s a chance that I could pay the price again.

“I’m encouraged by the recovery [Tuesday] night, and the performance today. I didn’t expect to recover and feel as good as I did, but from now on, I will be very careful with my efforts.”

“Everybody of course will look to us to make the race, but I reiterate that the other teams also have the responsibility to make the race, because everybody’s interested in either winning the Tour de France or finishing on the podium or getting a good place, and if the races are not made hard, by a few teams — and one team can’t do that — then it will be difficult for some of these guys to take back the time.”

Armstrong noted that with François Simon of Bonjour still leading the race with a big advantage, and with Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) in second place, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

“Kivilev is getting closer but Simon is still … it’s a lot of time. The stages need to be hard. And if you look at the stages in the Pyrénées, yes they’re difficult, but they’re not long.

“It’s tricky, because the two leaders haven’t been caught,” he said. “That’s going to be a collective effort, between myself and Ullrich and Beloki and anybody else that wants to pass those guys. They cannot only look at us [U.S. Postal Service] and say, okay, make the race. If that’s the case, then they may not be caught. But it’s tricky tactics, and I’ll be more conservative now with my efforts.”

The American believes that after Thursday’s transfer and rest day, his team will be ready to give him full support in the mountains, after an opening 10 days during which it was weakened by crashes and injuries. Already the team has lost Christian Vande Velde who broke an arm in a crash, and Hamilton has been less than 100 percent because of a crash and stomach problems.

“They’re getting better,” Armstrong said of his teammate. “It takes a few days to get over crashes. Unfortunately, Steffen [Kjaergaard] had one [Tuesday], but they seemed good last night. Most of them took this time trial kind of easy today, and then they have the rest day tomorrow. And like me, I think they know that we’re getting closer and closer to the yellow jersey. And they’re going to be motivated by that.

“I looked around the dinner table last night and I saw guys that were different. They were different guys, different riders. Different eyes, different faces. And they know their jobs. They know why they’re here and they know why they were picked to be on this team and why they were selected to come to the Tour de France. So I expect them to be very good. And finally, our two sort of star climbers [Heras and Rubiera] are both Spanish, and it’s no secret that the Spanish riders prefer the Pyrénées to the Alps. It’s closer to home, a lot of Spanish spectators, a lot of Spanish people, in fact one of the stages actually goes into Spain, so they will be very motivated.”

Of his former teammate Livingston, now at the side of Ullrich, Armstrong said that he respects and cares for him, although the two hadn’t spoken since Livingston joined Telekom over the winter. “I have had contact with him in the race for the first time. He did the Giro [d’Italia] when I was in Nice, so I didn’t see him in Nice. I saw him earlier in the year, and didn’t have any contact in the races.

“It’s an interesting relationship, and an interesting dynamic, because I still care for the guy a lot, and I would still probably do anything in the world for the guy. And it’s awkward to see him riding on the front in a pink jersey.

“Am I disappointed by his decision to go there? Of course. But I still really care for the guy, and I was happy to see him at the front [Tuesday]. The early stages he looked like he was suffering a little bit, but yesterday he showed his class. He showed that he’s a good teammate, regardless. He’s not riding for me but he’s riding for Jan Ullrich. He showed that he’s a class guy, a class teammate, and he’s doing his job.”

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