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Discovery Team ready for ’05; Armstrong still unsure about Tour

The team formerly known as the U.S. Postal Service entered a new era onMonday when Lance Armstrong and Company unveiled its new look and identityin Silver Spring, Maryland. In a flashy introduction ceremony at the AmericanFilm Institute’s Silver Theater, just outside of Washington D.C., and acrossthe street from its new corporate sponsor, the most successful pro cyclingoutfit in the U.S. was officially introduced as the Discovery Channel ProCycling Team. After taking the stage, one team veteran marveled at how far the teamhad come since its inception nine years ago. “Back at our first team

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By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor

These TV guys can put on a real show

These TV guys can put on a real show

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The team formerly known as the U.S. Postal Service entered a new era onMonday when Lance Armstrong and Company unveiled its new look and identityin Silver Spring, Maryland. In a flashy introduction ceremony at the AmericanFilm Institute’s Silver Theater, just outside of Washington D.C., and acrossthe street from its new corporate sponsor, the most successful pro cyclingoutfit in the U.S. was officially introduced as the Discovery Channel ProCycling Team.

Armstrong fields questions about '05

Armstrong fields questions about ’05

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

After taking the stage, one team veteran marveled at how far the teamhad come since its inception nine years ago. “Back at our first team presentation,we were at a restaurant with about 40 people total,” said George Hincapie,the only remaining rider from that original U.S. Postal team. “When I lookat these team members, it’s just been an amazing change. We’ve gone frombeing an upstart team to one of, if not the best team in the world.”

The one man most responsible for the team’s lofty status was the mainattraction for the international media that gathered Monday at the renovatedart deco style AFI Theater. Could Discovery Channel expect to see Armstrongattempt to win his seventh Tour de France in July? As expected, Armstrongwouldn’t say, but as his longtime teammate Hincapie pointed out, thereare other things to talk about with this team. With all of its personnelassembled in one place for the first time, the major changes and additionsthat have bolstered the squad as it enters the ProTour era were plain tosee.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

A NEW WAY OF THINKING
With an eye on the future and the post-Armstrong years, returning teamdirector Johan Bruyneel has constructed a team that seems capable of winningany race on the ProTour series, which begins in March with Paris-Nice.Of the 28 riders who walked onto the stage Monday wearing the new teamuniforms — a shark-inspired silver, with a blue-and-white Discovery logoand “Livestrong” yellow band around the left arm — some of the notablenew faces included former under-23 world champion Yaroslav Popovych, 2002Giro d’Italia champion Paolo Savoldelli, two-time British champion RogerHammond and American stage race hopeful Tom Danielson.

Representing 15 different nations, the roster of 28 is the largest everfor this team. With that in mind, Bruyneel said that no matter what Armstrongdecides about the Tour, the Discovery Channel team will take on new challengesin 2005 including a serious attempt to win the Giro d’Italia and a newemphasis on the classics and major one-day races.

Savoldelli is on board

Savoldelli is on board

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

According to Bruyneel, building the team into a well-rounded outfitthat can be competitive at a variety of races is in step with the goalsof the new sponsor. “A big influence is the philosophy of Discovery,” hesaid. “They have insisted on the global aspect of the team, so they arevery excited that we have 15 nationalities.”

That’s a new direction for Bruyneel’s team; when they raced under thesponsorship of the U.S. Postal Service, there was always an emphasis ontrying to keep a core of American riders at the most visible events. “It’seasier to find young talent if you don’t only have to focus on Americans,”Bruyneel said. “It’s a different idea, but it’s exciting to be able tolook forward a few years.”

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

At the same time, Armstrong said that he views the team as the rightplace to try to develop some of the top American riders. Armstrong notedthat he was pleased to add Danielson to the Discovery team, and also saidthat losing last year’s Tour de France revelation Floyd Landis to the Phonakteam was a blow. “Floyd’s a bit of a double loss because he’s number onea good bike rider and number two an American,” Armstrong said. “We liketo have both of those kinds of guys on the team.”

WILL HE OR WON’T HE?
It’s hard to believe that Armstrong, renowned for his intense focusand fierce competitive drive, doesn’t yet know if he’ll race the Tour.But that’s his story, and he’s sticking to it. After the team introduction,Armstrong explained that his deal with Discovery Channel requires him torace at least one Tour de France.

“That could be in 2005 or 2006,” Armstrong said. “But I’m fully committedto doing that.”

First, however, Armstrong is focusing on the spring classics. “Rightnow the plan is to do the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège,Fleche-Wallonne,” he said. “And that could change with a race here or there.We could do Milan-San Remo, we could take out the Tour of Flanders, we’renot sure yet.”

The spring classics are nothing new to Armstrong, who has come closebut never won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race.“It’s time to finally go and try to win one of the monuments of cycling,”he said.

The apparent lack of focus on the Tour is not the only noticeable changein Armstrong as he pulls on the new colors of Discovery Channel this year.While he clearly still has personal ambitions, he’s now talking about thefuture of the team, about recruiting and developing other riders who canwin grand tours. He talks about doing “off the bike” projects with DiscoveryChannel and was even involved in designing the new team uniforms.

Still, as the team prepared to fly to California on Monday evening,where they would begin another season with a training camp near Santa Barbara,Armstrong said his primary motivation remains the same. No matter how bigthe team introductions grow, or how long the applause lasts when he isintroduced, Armstrong says it’s the basics of the sport that keep him comingback.

“Camp is fun for me,” he said. “Going and spending 10 days or two weekswith the guys you really like the most, and riding around the countrysideand suffering a little bit, that’s definitely fun.”

Whether that motivation still applies to three weeks in July, in France,has yet to be decided.Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team – 2005
Lance Armstrong (USA)
Jose Azevedo (POR)
Michael Barry (CAN)
Manuel Beltran (ESP)
Fumiyuki Beppu (JPN)
Volodymyr Bileka (UKR)
Janez Brajkovic (SLO)
Michael Creed (USA)
Antonio Cruz (USA)
Tom Danielson (USA)
Stijn Devolder (BEL)
Viatcheslav Ekimov (RUS)
Roger Hammond (GBR)
Ryder Hesjedal (CAN)
George Hincapie (USA)
Leif Hoste (BEL)
Benoit Joachim (LUX)
Jason McCartney (USA)
Patrick McCarty (USA)
Gennady Mikhaylov (RUS)
Benjamin Noval (ESP)
Pavel Padrnos (CZE)
Yaroslav Popovych (UKR)
Hayden Roulston (NZL)
Jose Luis Rubiera (ESP)
Paolo Savoldelli (ITA)
Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL)
Max Van Heeswijk (NED).

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