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Calling Lance Armstrong “an authentic champion” but a selfish one, Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz has declared that he doesn’t want to see the 32-year-old American win an unprecedented sixth Tour de France.
Saiz, who managed the Spanish ONCE team until the company pulled out of the sport last year after 11 years’ involvement, feels that former race greats such as five-time winners Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault were cut from very different cloth than Armstrong.
“Thanks to his experience, his mental strength and his nose for racing, I would say that Armstrong has an 80 percent chance of winning this year,” Saiz told La Derniere Heure. “As usual, he will pack a season’s worth of racing into 23 days.
“Listen, I’ve got heaps of respect for Armstrong on a professional level. He’s an authentic champion, and a great one at that. But he’s always had a selfish approach to cycling. He’s taken a lot from the sport, but he hasn’t given much back in return.”
Saiz, who grew up in the Eddy Merckx era but says he preferred the Belgian legend’s big rival, Spaniard Luis Ocana, has been involved in cycling for years, enjoying huge successes with the ONCE team in the 1990s despite never seeing any of his riders win the Tour.
And when it comes to giving his opinion on the Tour’s all-time best, from Jacques Anquetil to Miguel Indurain, Saiz doesn’t hesitate for a second.
“There’s no comparison,” he said, using Merckx as an example. “Merckx gave everything he had to the sport. The whole season. That’s what separates the European idea of cycling from the American idea. It’s not a judgment, just an opinion. But for all those reasons, that’s why I hope he doesn’t become the first rider to win the Tour six times.”
Saiz sees Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) as the main threat to Armstrong, with Spanish climber Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) also in the mix. Still, he hopes that former U.S. Postal rider Roberto Heras, who will be leading Saiz’s Liberty Seguros team at this Tour, also will finally move out of Armstrong’s shadow.
“Until now Roberto has ridden the Tour as a teammate to Armstrong,” Saiz said. “He favored the financial aspect of his career over the sporting aspect, which is his right.
“But now he’s going to have to prove he’s worthy of being the team leader, that he can attack and take the race by the scruff of the neck. I believe he has the ability, and I can see that he is concentrated and motivated. He has a solid team around him. It should be a great challenge.”