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Thursday’s Euro-File: Spaniards bullish on Armstrong; Botero and Simoni bullish on Vuelta

Sport directors from the top Spanish teams are convinced Lance Armstrong will win a record-tying fifth Tour de France. A quick survey by the Spanish sports daily AS checked the barometer of Spain’s top teams. “He will win two more because he’s ambitious and he wants to break the record,” said Vicente Belda of Kelme. “I also don’t see anyone behind him who can beat him.” Manolo Saiz, the ONCE director who’s team has come closest to Armstrong in the podium, said Armstrong is without a doubt cycling’s top dog. “You can’t say he can win as many as he wants, but it’s practically true,” Saiz

By Andrew Hood

Sport directors from the top Spanish teams are convinced Lance Armstrong will win a record-tying fifth Tour de France. A quick survey by the Spanish sports daily AS checked the barometer of Spain’s top teams.

“He will win two more because he’s ambitious and he wants to break the record,” said Vicente Belda of Kelme. “I also don’t see anyone behind him who can beat him.”

Manolo Saiz, the ONCE director who’s team has come closest to Armstrong in the podium, said Armstrong is without a doubt cycling’s top dog.

“You can’t say he can win as many as he wants, but it’s practically true,” Saiz said. “Next year, unless he commits some errors, I don’t know who else could win. Still, we will try with the same goal. … Someone could win in a long escape, but face to face, he’s the strongest.”

The one man who knows a thing or two about winning five straight Tours is Eusebio Unzue, the Banesto sport director who led Miguel Indurain to the record.

“His secret is not his strength, but his mind. Only Armstrong has the answer to how many Tours he can win,” he said. “We had the same feeling in 1995, but in the next year when Miguel returned to win again, well….”

Botero eyes Vuelta podium – doesn’t want Tour podium
Santiago Botero, the Colombian rider on the Kelme team, said he would not want to take the place of Raimondas Rumsas on the Tour de France podium if the Lithuanian is relegated due to a growing doping scandal surrounding his wife.

Botero, who won two stages and finished fourth, said that’s not the way to reach the podium of cycling’s most important race.

“I would not want to be on the podium in this way,” Botero told the Spanish wires. “If something happens to Rumsas, it would be bad for all of cycling.”

Meanwhile, Kelme is readying for the Vuelta a Espana, cycling third and final three-week grand tour of the season. Botero says he has hopes for the podium.

“The Vuelta is more for the Spanish racers, while the Tour is for whoever. The topography is distinct and the peloton is not at the same level as the Tour. But if I arrive in good form, I could be on the podium.”

Vicente Belda, director of Kelme, said the team comes with ambitions to win. Last year, Kelme finished second with Oscar Sevilla, who lost the race to Festina’s Angel Casero on the final-day time trial.

“Kelme is going to be the strong team at the Vuelta. We are going to race with Sevilla, Aitor Gonzalez (sixth at the Giro) and the Gutierrez brothers,” he said. “The team will be the rocks we were at the Giro and the Tour.”

Simoni back at HEW Cyclassics, eyes Vuelta
Gilberto Simoni, the 2001 winner of the Giro d’Italia, is back and is eyeing a revenge tour on the upcoming Vuelta a Espana.

Simoni was kicked out of the 2002 Giro after testing positive cocaine– once at an out-of-competition test in April and then another during the race. Simoni, however, was cleared last weekend of wrong-doing when the Italian cycling federation ruled that the traces of cocaine came from a throat lozenges from Peru.

Simoni’s first race back will be Sunday’s HEW Cyclassics, the sixth round of the 2002 World Cup. He will also race the GP de Camaiore in Italy next week. Simoni, 30, was suspended from his team during the investigation but has now been welcomed back. His Saeco team was “uninvited” to the Tour de France following the revelations. Now Simoni says he wants to prepare for an assault on the Vuelta a Espana.

Where’s Lance?
Lance Armstrong continued on his winning ways following his fourth consecutive Tour de France victory. Armstrong was spotted riding in a post-Tour Criterium in Stiphout, Holland, on Tuesday, where he crossed the line first.

Criteriums are a big part of the post-Tour racing scene in Europe, where the Tour’s biggest stars receive large sums to appear at the races. Thousands of fans turn up at for a chance to watch the stars close up. Armstrong is scheduled to race in a few more of these on this side of the pond before traveling to New York City later this week to race there and make some media appearances.


Tuesday’s Euro-File: BigMig on Big Tex; Big plans for Ullrich?
Wednesday’s Euro-file: Notraces for Rumsas; No Vuelta for Levi; No adidas for Jan