By Andrew Hood
Armstrong reacts to doping probe
Lance Armstrong reacted strongly against a new doping investigation initiated this week in France, saying he’s “disappointed” yet insists he’ll be “vindicated.”
On Thursday, French newspapers reported that Philippe Drouet, a prosecutor in Annecy, is starting a preliminary investigation into allegations against the six-time Tour de France champion in the controversial book “LA Confidentiel.”
“I am disappointed by the judge’s decision to launch an inquiry without first hearing my side of the story,” Armstrong said in a press release issued by news agency PR Newswire.
“I invite [the court] to consult the results of my anti-doping tests,” Armstrong said. “I was tested 22 times in 2004 alone. I do not use – and I have never used – doping products.” The Texan added that he’s “sure to be vindicated.”
In an interview published in L’Equipe, Armstrong insisted he has “nothing to hide.”
“Although we haven’t officially been made aware of the inquiry, I will be available at any time and in any place,” he told the French sports daily.
According to L’Equipe, Drouet is interested in learning more about the relationship between Armstrong and Benoit Nave, a French trainer based in Annecy. Contacted by L’Equipe, Nave said police have not asked him about his relationship with Armstrong.
Armstrong, who is training in California ahead of the 2005 season, told the newspaper his plans to race in Paris-Nice in early March won’t be affected by the latest inquiry.
Leipheimer leading way for Gerolsteiner
The world’s press got the first glimpse of Levi Leipheimer in his new Gerolsteiner uniform as the German team kicked off its 2005 line-up in an official unveiling Thursday evening in Germany.
The 31-year-old American said he hopes to be among the top five in this year’s Tour de France after two impressive top-10 finishes in three Tour starts.
“I want a top-five, and if you’re in the top five, you never know what can happen with a little bit of luck,” Leipheimer said. “I’m not going to worry too much about holding on to a high place and risk a little more and go for the stage win, even if I’m sitting in eighth place in the third week, I’ll go for the break, if they want to chase from behind, they can chase.”
Leipheimer headlines the mostly-German squad, which includes classics specialist Davide Rebellin, time trial strongman Michael Rich, German sprinter Danilo Hondo and Austrian climber Georg Totschnig.
Leipheimer and Totschnig will share Tour leadership duties while Hondo will chase stage victories at the Tour, team boss Hans-Michael Holczer said.
“Georg and Levi will share the leadership role for the team, which will help both of them in the mountains,” he said. “We’d be happy with a top 10 in the GC, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get closer to the podium than that.”
Gerolsteiner finished ranked third overall at the end of last year’s UCI team rankings and enters the 2005 campaign with goals of shining in the new ProTour format. The team finished the 2004 season with 32 victories and 14 podiums.
Rebellin – who swept to victory in Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – will focus on the spring classics. Up-and-comers Fabian Wegmann and Ronny Scholz will build on strong progress made in 2004. New addition Frank Hoy will bring new muscle to the cobbled classics, Flanders and Roubaix.
Hondo said he’s ready to step up for more in 2005: “I always seemed to finish second in the big races, and now it’s time for a big victory. At the world’s, Erik (Zabel) proved he’s a leader but I’ve if it’s my style of race I can do it.”
Gerolsteiner for 2005: Robert Foerster (Ger), Markus Fothen (Ger), Rene Haselbacher (Aut), Heinrich Haussler (Ger), Danilo Hondo (Ger), Frank Hoy (Den), Sven Krauss (Ger), Sebastian Lang (Ger), Levi Leipheimer (USA), Andrea Moletta (Ita), Sven Montgomery (Swi), Volker Ordowski (Ger), Uwe Peschel (Ger), Davide Rebellin (Ita), Michael Rich (Ger), Matthias Russ (Ger), Torsten Schmidt (Ger), Ronny Scholz (Ger), Marco Serpellini (Ita), Marcel Strauss (Swi), Georg Totschnig (Aut), Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Peter Wrolich (Aut), Beat Zberg (Swi), Markus Zberg (Swi), Thomas Ziegler (Ger)
Klöden believes he can win Tour
The runner-up to Lance Armstrong in last year’s Tour de France believes he has what it takes to go one step higher.
Andreas Klöden, the 30-year-old German who’s ridden much of his career in the shadow of 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich, enters the 2005 season optimistic he can pick up where he left off following last year’s breakthrough campaign.
“I believe I can still improve,” Klöden said in an interview with the Spanish sports daily MARCA. “(Bjarne) Riis made big improvements in his 30s to win the Tour at 32. I’ve left behind a black period of three years and now I am much more motivated to do something good. I have confidence.”
Following his big victory in the 2000 Paris-Nice, Klöden was hampered by injuries, crashes and illnesses until he put together his surprising, yet impressive 2004 Tour performance. Klöden erased a gap to Italian Ivan Basso and bounced into second overall in the final time trial.
“I am among the best in the time and where I could improve a little bit is in the mountains. Last year, Basso and Armstrong were a little bit better, even though if I don’t lose a lot in the mountains, I can recover it in the time trials,” he said. “It’s sure I dream about winning the Tour, because if you’ve been on the podium, you can also win. For this I have a lot of motivation.”
With Klöden, Ullrich and 2003 podium man Alexandre Vinokourov, T-Mobile will have a very large presence in the coming Tour.