By Andrew Hood
Four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was the man of the hour in Paris on Thursday when he gave his annual pre-Tour press conference. Just minutes after his pre-race health checkup, Armstrong walked before 200 members of the world’s press.
Flanked by body guards and members of his entourage, photographers were snapping pictures of the arrival of cycling’s king. Armstrong looked and sounded confident.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend July,” he quipped.
Despite coming in as the undisputed king of cycling, the 31-year-old said it’s wrong to call the Tour a one-man race. He called Gilberto Simoni, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki his main rivals.
“I think the race will be challenging for us. It will be a tighter race. I’m not getting any younger, that means I am not getting any stronger. There are always some wild cards who can change the face of the race,” he said. “Nothing is free in this sport.”
Armstrong said his pre-Tour preparation worked to perfection, adding that his crash at the Dauphiné Libéré was the only “hiccup.”
“The crash at the Dauphiné and the recovery after that was a surprise. Not only from a physical standpoint, but what the antibiotics did more to my stomach than was anticipated,” he said.
Armstrong received several questions about his reception and relationship with the French. He said this year’s his reception has been “better than ever,” noting that he does everything for the Tour.
“I show up prepared and motivated because I love it. I want to win the Tour. That’s the biggest compliment you can pay,” he said.
Armstrong said life as the leading Tour favorite is more complicated than it was four years ago when he won his first Tour.
“Until now, it hasn’t been a problem. It hasn’t compromised the build up, but we’ll see in the next three weeks,” he said.
Armstrong said he won’t wear the yellow jersey in Saturday’s opening prologue.
“Like I did last year, I’ll start the prologue with the team jersey and try to earn and deserve the yellow jersey,” Armstrong said. “I started with it in 2001 and it didn’t feel right to me. I agree there’s a special importance for the yellow jersey. Hopefully I will earn the jersey and get to wear it at some point in the next three weeks.”
Rodriguez aims for stage win
Caldirola-Sidermec’s Fred Rodriguez said he almost didn’t start this year’s Tour de France after he came down with a chest cold in June after coming back from racing in the United States.
“I had a setback with some allergies and had some sort of lung infection. I had to take antibiotics and it set me back for about two weeks,” he said. “I didn’t want to come back to the Tour if I couldn’t perform. I didn’t want to waste my team’s time or my time.”
Rodriguez, looking dapper in shades and a team outfit, said he enters his fourth Tour with his best form since 2000 and wants to win a stage.
“After two years of coming to the Tour sick, I feel like I finally have the right form to have a strong performance,” Rodriguez said. “I want to win a Tour stage. That’s my goal. I’m getting more comfortable as a racer, more comfortable about my job. It would be big to win a stage.”
Hamilton: “The strongest I’ve ever felt”
Team CSC’s Tyler Hamilton says he ready excited about his change to start the finally start the Tour de France as a protected rider and with full preparation.
“This is really the first time I’ve made the Tour the main goal of the season,” Hamilton said. “I’ve done the homework. Now it’s time to take the test.”
|“I’ve done the homework. Now it’s time to take the test.”
Hamilton and his teammate previewed the team time trial course Wednesday and he said he enters the Tour with his confidence and form on the upswing.
“I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt. The spring was great for my confidence and the team’s confidence,” said Hamilton, making his seventh Tour start. “Coming to this Tour I feel like a different person, calmer. I’ve done the homework, now it’s time to take the test. I believe I’m as ready as I can be.”
Hamilton has been reluctant to call himself a favorite for the Tour podium, even though many in the media are hyping his chances. He enters the race with what he calls a realistic goal of aiming for the top 10 overall.
“That’s a nice compliment, but it doesn’t put any extra pressure on me. It doesn’t change my goals,” Hamilton said of the pre-Tour attention. “I’ve never been in the top 10 of a Tour before. I will start with that. I’m not going to make any crazy declarations about beating Lance. To say I’d challenge him is a bit of a bold statement.”
Hamilton said he believes his form will come around in the final half of the Tour and believes the decisive stages will be fought out from the first individual time trial and four challenging stages in the Pyrenees.
“That’s where the race will be won or lost,” he said. “If the legs are strong, I will try to make a move there.”
CSC extends sponsorship to 2005
California-based Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) has announced that it will extend its team sponsorship through the 2005 season.
“It’s very important for the team. We’ve been with CSC for three years. They’re a very professional sponsor, they have the same ambitions we do,” said Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis. “For us, it’s the best sponsor we could have.”
Riis, who won the 1996 Tour de France, said the CSC sponsorship extension will allow him to attract top riders and continue his work of building a modern, value-based team.
“We still have a lot of ambitions. Our project still has a long way to go. We want to be among the best teams in the world,” Riis said. “We’ve worked together three years to build the strong structure and we are proud of our achievements, but we are looking forward to more success.”