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By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong will be back in the peloton Sunday for the start of the Dauphiné Libéré, his final tune-up before a run at a seventh Tour de France crown.
As the Tour nears, Armstrong took a look at his likely teammates. The Texan will be tackling his final Tour without the help of veteran teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov, who injured his back in a training spill with Armstrong last month.
Assured places for the July 3 start of the Tour are George Hincapie, the only rider to be a part of all six of Armstrong’s previous Tour victories, Spanish riders Manuel Beltran and Chechu Rubiera and Portuguese strongman José Azevedo, fifth overall last year and Armstrong’s essential bodyguard in the high mountains.
Paolo Savoldelli’s winning form in the Giro d’Italia assured Il Falco a spot on the Discovery train. “We viewed him as someone who had a lot of potential and a lot of experience,” Armstrong told Eurosport. “He was a logical choice as team leader for the Giro.”
Yarosloav Popovych will also make his Tour debut. After his recent win at the Volta a Cataluyna, the Ukraine is being touted as a possible successor to Armstrong once the Texan retires in July.
The final two spots will likely be decided during next week’s Dauphiné. On the short list are Leif Hoste, Benoit Joachim, Pavel Padrnos and Benjamin Noval.
Armstrong said 1997 Tour champ Jan Ullrich remains his top worry.
“Jan is the big threat,” Armstrong told Eurosport. “He’s the one who wakes me up early every morning. He says he wants to beat me in the Tour de France. Well, this is his last chance.”
Armstrong also said there’s no chance he’ll change his mind about retirement, but said he wants to go out on top.
“If you lose one [Tour] at the age of 34, I don’t think you have a great chance of winning one at 35,” Armstrong continued. “There are no guarantees that I’ll win, but I can tell you that I’m more excited than ever to race. For me, to win a final Tour and then be able to stop immediately after is a dream.” Klöden’s win boosts morale
Andreas Klöden’s win in Sunday’s finale at the Bayern-Rundfahrt helped erase concerns that he’s not on track for the 2005 Tour de France.
Last year’s runner-up has been dogged with a poor start to his season and was forced to cancel starts in a handful of races as he tried to catch up on his form, but Klöden says he’s feeling better just in time for his season peak.
“This win gives me a real morale booster for the coming weeks of hard work, and shows that my Tour preparations are bang on schedule,” Klöden said after his first win of the season.
The win is the third for T-Mobile on the season and comes at an important time for Klöden. The team is bringing three captains to the Tour, with 1997 champion Jan Ullrich, Klöden and Alexandre Vinokourov
”I know that I can ride a good Tour and that I will be there for Jan all the way,” added the 29-year old: “I am convinced that in five weeks time we will head to the tour with a super competitive team.”
Klöden continues his build at the Dauphiné Libéré (June 5-12) in France while Ullrich will be in Switzerland to defend his Tour de Suisse crown (June 11-19). Simoni might race Tour
Fresh off finishing second in the Giro d’Italia, Gilberto Simoni hasn’t discounted a start in next month’s Tour de France.
Simoni’s hometown of Trenti threw a party for their podium man on Monday and “Gibo” says he’s encouraged by his form coming out of the Giro and is now mulling a Tour appearance.
“It would be hard to race the Tour, but my motivation and physical condition are perfect now,” Simoni told the Italian wires. “Trying to win the Tour would be difficult, but I could take aim for a stage.”
Simoni said he’d also like to guide Lampre-Caffita teammate Damiano Cunego through what will be his Tour debut.
“The Tour demands experience and maturity,” Simoni continued. “You must know the distance well and, especially in the north where you’re exposed to the wind, you must know how to move about in the group.” Hondo insisting on innocence
German sprinter Danilo Hondo insists he’s innocent of alleged doping and hopes he can clear his name in an arbitration hearing scheduled later this week before the Swiss cycling federation.
Hondo, a German citizen who races with a Swiss license, failed tests for the banned stimulant carphedon during the Vuelta a Murcia in March. He faces a two-year ban as well as another two-year ProTour ban, a penalty that would essentially end his cycling career.
“At first I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. I thought, OK, the B-sample will clear this up,” Hondo told Radsport news. “When the second sample was positive, I couldn’t understand how this substance entered my body. I ask myself that question every day.”
Hondo said the levels were so low in his system that it could have come from something he ate. He cleared tests conducted the previous day; something he believes vindicates his side of the story.
“We will present our case and everything we’ve collected shows considerable doubt,” he said. “But one must prove one’s innocence and as a sportsman, that’s not so easy.”