By Andrew Hood
Lefevre expects – and wants – Armstrong to win No. 6Quick Step-Davitamon boss Patrick Lefevre said he doesn’t see anyone capable of keeping Lance Armstrong from winning a record sixth Tour de France.
“If he’s healthy this year, we’ll see Lance stronger in 2004 than last year,” Lefevre told VeloNews this week. “We saw him with the problems he overcame last year. He was fighting back like a great champion. I don’t know his situation, but with his divorce, his fall in the Dauphine, the way he fought back, I have no one to beat him this year. I want to beat him in 2005.”
Lefevre said Quick Step’s goal in the 2004 Tour will be to put Richard Virenque into a record seventh King of the Mountains jersey and hunt stage wins. The team is not expecting to be in the hunt for the overall classification, but Lefevre said he’s grooming Juan Miguel Mercado and Michael Rogers for future Tours.
Lefevre said despite Jan Ullrich’s return to T-Mobile (formerly Telekom), he expects Armstrong to be able to claim his sixth consecutive Tour victory.
“Ullrich is there, but with a big team it’s not to his benefit. They can make the Tour very explosive with Botero, Vinokourov, but 80 million Germans want to see Ullrich to win, but they will have a difficult choice to make Vinokourov help Ullrich,” Lefevre said. “I hope to see a Tour like 2003, it’s only good for cycling.”
Lefevre said Armstrong deserves the respect of a five-time winner despite some critics who insist the Texan puts too much emphasis on the Tour.
“I only laugh at this,” Lefevre said. “For me, the best spectators are only on the side of the road. It’s very important that you know what your specialty is. (Johan) Museeuw tried to win the jersey, but he could never chase the GC. Museeuw is always there in there for the classics; just like Lance in the Tour.”
The veteran sports director said he’s a “big admirer of Lance” and recalled how his former team, Mapei, passed on a chance to sign Armstrong after he recovered from life-threatening cancer in 1997.
“I will never forget his words in Paris-Nice in 1998. He said, ‘Tell Mr. Squinzi (Mapei’s owner) he will regret that he didn’t take me because I am going to win the Tour de France.’ That’s the stage that he went home but he did come back like he said,” Lefevre said. “I remember the stage in the Pyrenees (last year) and Lance was in difficulty and everyone in the press tent started applauding. This hurt me. If you have respect for Lance, you don’t do it. If he’s beaten, OK, applause for the other, but you don’t do this.”
Mayo wants nothing less than Tour podium
Iban Mayo said the Tour de France podium will be his top focus for the 2004 season. The Euskatel-Euskadi rider said he’s more motivated than ever following his breakout 2003 season, when he won the Tour of the Basque Country and the Alpe d’Huez stage at the Tour.
“The podium of the Tour, accompanied with a stage win, would be a step forward for me. This is my personal goal for 2004,” Mayo said. “The change of the course for this year, with the climbing time trial to Alpe d’Huez, gives me even more motivation.”
Mayo said he’s at an advantage this season as Euskatel-Euskadi will be guaranteed a spot in the Tour, allowing him to focus on his Tour preparation rather than fight for early results to secure a wild-card bid.
“I’ve changed my program. With our place guaranteed this year, I will not start as strong again and instead build my strength as the others do,” he said. “I hope this lets me be better for the Tour and later to race in the Vuelta a España.” More drug tests in France
France will increase the number of random drugs tests it conducts following a doping investigation involving the Cofidis cycling team, sports minister Jean-Francois Lamour said Friday.
“We have decided to reinforce our targets to 9000 tests (from 8500) (for) all sports in 2004,” Lamour told a news conference after a meeting with French cycling chiefs. “For the first time the majority of these tests will be absolutely and truly unannounced.”
Lamour, a former Olympic fencing champion, also asked the French National Olympic Committee to suspend all sports people involved in a doping investigation. He also called for better coordination through a new “national technical group” between all of the police forces involved in the fight against drugs.
Lamour called the meeting with cycling’s top officials as police continued their investigation into the Cofidis team, who had their headquarters raided on January 12.
A team assistant and two riders, Cedric Vasseur and Philippe Gaumont, were detained Tuesday for questioning about the alleged trafficking of banned substances.
Gaumont was released Wednesday but placed under official investigation, judicial sources said. Vasseur, who led the 1997 Tour de France for five days, was freed without charge Thursday.
Cofidis’s top riders, including British time trial world champion David Millar and Spanish road race world champion Igor Astarloa, have not been involved in the investigation.
Millar said he had nothing to worry about and the arrests were “isolated cases.”
“All I can say is that it’s not a Cofidis problem and it has certainly nothing to do with me,” he was quoted as saying in the French media.
Francois Migraine, the chairman of the team’s sponsor, has said he will withdraw his company’s support if the riders are found guilty.
“If all this is true, then I’m surprised that the riders have been so stupid … but if I find out I have a team full of 25 riders who are all doped, then there will be no more team,” said Migraine. – Reuters