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By Andrew Hood
Victor Hugo Peña had a front-row seat to three of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories and now he believes he’s about to witness another with his old U.S. Postal teammate Floyd Landis.
Peña rode in support of Armstrong in 2001-03 at U.S. Postal Service and now he’s working to push Landis to his first Tour win.
“I believe that Floyd can win this Tour,” Peña told VeloNews before Saturday’s start. “We have to take it day by day and see how things unfold, but the team is motivated to help him win. We believe he can win.”
Peña, racing in his fourth Tour, became the first Colombian to wear the yellow jersey after U.S. Postal Service won the team time trial in 2003. He was left off the Tour team the following year and switched to Phonak for the 2005 season.
Peña has studied both riders up close and says the two have very distinct styles. With Armstrong, there was never any doubt who was boss while Landis’s easy-breezy style off the bike creates a stark contrast, Peña said.
“Lance and Floyd are very different. With Floyd, we both rode for Lance as ‘gregarios,’ so we are a little bit closer as friends and we’ve maintained that friendship,” he said. “Now he’s the leader, but he’s not that much higher than us. With Lance, he was the big leader and you had a little more respect for that position.”
Peña cautioned the relaxed mood inside the Phonak team bus shouldn’t be confused with any sort of lack of urgency when it comes to the race. Despite forfeiting the yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) in Saturday’s long escape, Peña said the team is rallying around Landis.
“In the end, you have to do your job the same,” he said. “When a leader is in position to win, you make the same sacrifices. You cannot be less focused or more relaxed with Landis because he is a friendly type, because you have to take the responsibility.”
Peña said Phonak will be strong enough to defend Landis in the Alps and said Discovery Channel is now having to learn to race with like the rest of the peloton following Armstrong’s retirement.
“The team is back down to earth without Armstrong, they are like everyone else now, content to try to win a stage, get into the breakaways, not win every year like they had gotten used to winning every year,” Peña said, before adding. “I might look old, but I still feel young in the saddle. You never stop learning and growing in this sport.”