Landis in; Vande Velde not
The U.S. Postal team released its roster for the Tour de France on Monday, naming a mix of veterans and newcomers to defend the Tour championship of three-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Joining Armstrong at the start line of the Tour de France in Luxembourg on July 6 will be Americans George Hincapie and Floyd Landis, Spain’s Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera, Colombia’s Victor Hugo Pena, Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, Czech Pavel Padrnos and Luxembourger Benoit Joachim.
“It was a tough decision to select the nine riders because we have 12 riders that are ready to ride the Tour,” said Postal director Johan Bruyneel, in a news release issued Monday. “However, this is without any doubt the strongest team we’ve put together over the last four years. Everybody is in good shape, well prepared and extremely motivated.”
Armstrong, coming off his second victory of the year eight days ago at the Dauphine Libere, expressed confidence in the selection.
“I have never been so excited about the team prior to the Tour and I’ve never seen such results in June,” the release quoted Armstrong as saying. “It was a great month for the team. The team’s well-rounded, motivated and experienced.”
Following Armstrong’s win at the Dauphine, Heras, the winner of the 2000 Tour of Spain and a key teammate at the Tour, won Spain’s Tour of Catalunya as it finished in Barcelona on Sunday.
“I’m really confident in this team,” said Bruyneel. “I’ve tried to select the type of riders that we will need over the three weeks, which will be a balance between flat stages, a team time trial, middle mountain stages and high mountain stages. This, together with the experience of each one, has been the main factor in the composition of the team.”
Bruyneel said that since the Postal squad is so deep in talent, several riders who have contributed to the team’s recent success may indeed be in better shape than they were at this point last year, but still were not selected for the Tour team. Notably absent from the roster is two-time Tour participant Christian Vande Velde.
As for the nine riders selected, Bruyneel obviously points to Armstrong as the team leader. “My impression is that Lance is in the same physical condition as last year,” said Bruyneel, “but that the rest of the team is better than in the past. Roberto is back on the level that we had expected him to reach. Chechu (Rubiera) will be as solid as always; we know that we can always count on him. Floyd just finished an impressive second in the Dauphine and I have a feeling that we have not seen the best of him yet.
“George, Pavel and Eki will be the motors of the team,” continued Bruyneel. “They are strong all around riders and they all have great experience. Benoit will be the most motivated rider of the whole peloton at the start in Luxembourg. And Victor is back, as he was very strong in the Dauphine.”