July 19, 2004
Bruyneel issues smackdown on pre-race favorites
"It's mainly the others who are not strong enough to win the Tour and make believe that Lance is stronger," said the U.S. Postal team director, hinting at Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton or Iban Mayo.
Bruyneel carefully exempted CSC's Ivan Basso from that loaded "others", saying Basso "was the best young rider in the Tour two years ago and he has improved a lot because he's a real professional and works hard."
On the other hand, Bruyneel was more than willing to comment on Jan Ullrich's difficulties so far in this Tour de France, who he said was "very far" from the shape he needed three months ago if he was to compete in the Tour.
Of Armstrong, Bruyneel said his inability to solo off the front on the Pyrenean climbs was evidence that he's well prepared, but "not stronger" than he was in 2001 and 2002.
Basso: If there's one chance, I'll take it
Ivan Basso isn't conceding this year's Tour de France to five-time winner Lance Armstrong.
"I've never been as strong in my life and if there's just one chance of winning I'll take it but I won't attack just to gain 10 or 15 seconds," Basso told reporters at a news conference on Monday.
"I won't attack just to tease Armstrong. If I attack it'll be to try and land the knockout blow, to win the Tour."
Looking at the course profile, it's hard to see Basso riding 1:17 faster than Armstrong over the rest of the race, especially with the Stage 19 time trial being 55 km, much longer than normal. Even if Basso pulls back 4 minutes on stages 16 (the Alpe d'Huez TT) and 17, he would lead Armstrong by about 2:40 going into the ITT on Stage 19, and that doesn't sound like enough to me.
Basso's manager, Bjarne Riis, was the only holdout of 21 sporting directors asked by procycling.com who didn't pick Armstrong to win the 2004 Tour. On the other hand, Riis didn't pick Basso, either, preferring to opt out of the informal survey.
All but 1 director chose Basso 2nd overall, with T-Mobile's Walter Godefroot and others choosing Andreas Klöden 3rd overall.
Four chose Francisco Mancebo to round out the podium, but Vincenzo Santoni of Domina Vacanze echoed how everyone is feeling by making a "sentimental rather than realistic choice" of current yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler to take 3rd. “My heart leans towards Voeckler,” said Santoni.
Voeckler to ride for France at Athens Olympics
Yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler's performance in the French national championships and in the 2004 Tour de France have earned him a place on France's squad for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Also on the squad will be Laurent Brochard, Sylvain Chavanel, Christophe Moreau, and Richard Virenque.
French technical director Patrick Cluzaud recognized Jérôme Pineau as the last man out in the selection process, edged by Chavanel, and named David Moncoutié and Sandy Casar as two others who "are going well."
Moreau and Brochard will race the time trial for France.
Coke signs Armstrong through 2006
As expected, Coca-Cola has renewed its promotional agreement with Lance Armstrong, currently promoting the company's bottled water brand, Dasani.
Coke has sponsored Armstrong since 2000, and the new deal runs through 2006, when Armstrong will be 35.
"The decision to re-sign with Lance was an easy one," said Javier Benito, chief marketing officer of Coca-Cola North America. "Lance is an incredible inspiration for his spirit and confidence on and off the bike, which is a perfect fit with the active, optimistic personality of the Dasani brand."
Hamilton on early exit
Hamilton says he knew immediately he had done some damage to his lower back.
Similar to the strategy I used in the 2002 Giro, we didn't want to speak publicly about my back because we didn't want the other teams to attack us, especially during the trickier stages 10 and 11. My team did an incredible job of protecting me and got me to the first mountain stage in the best possible shape under the circumstances.
Preliminary X-rays have not revealed any fractures. But and MRI scan scheduled for later today may show us what we suspect to be true. The doctors think the impact has either badly pulled or torn the ligaments and muscles in my lower back. This would explain why I couldn't climb like normal.
The decision for Hamilton to withdraw was made by team director Alvaro Pino, who ordered that Tyler drop out if he couldn't climb with the race leaders.
This is a crazy injury. One that I cannot control or overcome just by willing myself to do so. I would take the pain of two broken collarbones over this any day - and keep riding if I could. But something has come unplugged. So it's time to rest and start thinking about the races up the road. I'm hoping to be well enough to still compete in Athens. And there's always the Vuelta to consider. But first things first, which for now is recovery.
Jakob Piil withdraws from Tour
CSC's Jakob Piil, who spent seemingly the entire first week of the 2004 Tour in a breakaway, has withdrawn from the race complaining of a knee problem.
The Dane had to be a favorite for the Tour's newest competition, for the overall most aggressive rider in the race.
Piil is the first withdrawal by a CSC rider, leaving Ivan Basso 7 teammates. Still riding with a full slate are US Postal, Quick Step-Davitamon, and Rabobank.
Pantani tribute will draw protest
Wednesday's ITT up Alpe d'Huez has been officially dedicated to Marco Pantani, the Italian climber and 1998 Tour winner who died in February.
Pantani fans remember not only Pantani's win in '98, but also his exclusion from the Tour in 2001 and 2003, exclusions that Pantani apparently referred to in notes found in his hotel room after his death of cocaine poisining.
In recognition of Pantani's complicated relationship with the Tour, some tifosi plan to distribute a leaflet:
“Today’s gesture of dedicating today’s stage to Marco doesn’t erase the outrage of having prevented him from riding the Tour de France in 2001 and 2003. Races are made by champions (they are not the property of organisers) and champions have the right to participate even when they can’t win. THE WAR ON DOPING CAN’T BE FOUGHT BY CRIMINALISING A CHAMPION. One of the reasons why Marco died is the continual, five-year long, assassination of his dignity, his talent and his pride.
“Marco honoured the Tour de France with his exploits every time that he participated. The organisers of the Tour have excluded him from the race he loved, wounding deeply. Hypocrisy kills, let’s put an end to it.”