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After a gruelling four hours in the saddle on Stage 4 at the 57th Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré that...
After a gruelling four hours in the saddle on Stage 4 at the 57th Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré that finished atop le Mont Ventoux, Cyclingnews European Editor Tim Maloney had the opportunity to grab a few moments with six-time Tour champion and two-time Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré winner Lance Armstrong, to talk about his quest for an unprecedented seventh consecutive Tour de France win next month. It was Lance's final rite of passage with the "bastard" of a mountain that is Le Mont Ventoux climb that still remains unconquered by Lance after his fourth place on the Dauphiné Libéré stage.
Cyclingnews asked Lance how it went on Ventoux and as usual, the Texan didn't skate around the facts, telling us, "Well, it was tough! Tough as usual (on Ventoux) and a tough day in general, because it was very, very windy. The climb is relentless; very steep at the bottom and just difficult at the top. There were a lot of attacks and a lot of rhythm changes so I just tried to ride my own tempo. But in the end I rode steady and was happy enough with the effort.
CN: So you felt good on le Mont Ventoux?
LA: Yeah, I felt OK, pretty good. Not super, but not bad...
CN: I hear you had a new bike today, the Trek SSLx climbing bike.
LA: It's the bike I've been using the whole time at the Dauphiné Libéré. Trek has done some special stuff to their SSL frame and we've added some special pieces, some nuts and bolts, stuff like that. It's a nice bike; it rides well and it's stiff and even on the descent (down the back side of le Mont Ventoux) it was good. (Trek told Cyclingnews that their SSLx prototype is stiffer and lighter than the previous SSL model via a special carbon composite that uses a OCLV Boron together with the OCLV 55 of the original SSL model).
CN: In Wednesday's time trial at the Dauphiné Libéré, it was tough and windy but you had a good day. What was your take on that?
LA: Again, yesterday was not bad but not great. It was good enough to make me believe I'm on track (for the Tour).
CN: You were also riding a new bike yesterday, the Trek TTx...since you haven't done many time trials this season, how does this bike address that?
LA: I also rode the Trek TTx in the prologue; it's a little longer, a little lighter and apparently faster (than the previous Trek Team Time Trial model) according to the (wind tunnel test) data. The position fits well and the combination of the bars and the bike, and the combination of the bars and the frame and the headtube is pretty tricked out.
CN: You've talked about how much of a consideration the time trials are at the 2005 Tour De France for you, and based on your experience in winning the past six straight Tours, how does that condition your approach the quest to gain precious seconds against the clock?
LA: Well, it's an interesting Tour in that we have fewer kilometres of time trialing this year. And there are fewer uphill finishes. So on paper, you could say it could be an easier Tour. Of course, they're never easy so that means that it could be tighter, the time gaps could be less and therefore, the last time trial could be more exciting, more eventful.
CN: So Lance, what is your pre-Tour program after the Dauphiné Libéré?
LA: The plan is a few days of recon in the Alps of the Tour stages.
CN: What about the ProTour time trial?
LA: Maybe...I haven't decided yet.
CN: I imagine you were watching the Giro d'Italia every day with your Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team guy Savoldelli in the Maglia Rosa. I thought they should have put a big "S" on his chest for Superman the way he rode at the Giro.
LA: How about "S" for Smart Man? Because Savoldelli rode very smart with a lot of patience; very calm and collected. Savoldelli was very consistent throughout the Giro d'Italia. Unfortunately for our Discovery Channel team, there were some questions about the calibre of the team. But in fact, I don't think the team was so bad at all. Sure, we lost Tom Danielson early because of his knee problems, but I'm sure if he had stayed in there and was feeling good, he would have been there to help Savoldelli.
But at the end of the day, like on the day to Sestrières, even Simoni was looking for help. Obviously Di Luca basically just switched jerseys that day and put on a Lampre jersey. Nobody else had teammates either at the Giro...
CN: On paper, the team you will have for your final Tour challenge looks so strong. You have Giro winner Savoldelli, Popovych, Azevedo, Chechu Rubiera, Triki Beltran, Big George Hincapie plus two others...what's your take on this team with the Tour De France three weeks away?
LA: Best team ever, it will be a team I expect to be the best team I've ever raced with. It will be a good mix of the older, experienced guys that have been on the team for a lot of our wins, including a guy like George (Hincapie) for attempt number seven, plus new guys like Savoldelli and the new hope Popovych.
So it's good for me to have a great team around me, but it's also good for Popo to see how this organization runs, how the team runs and for him to understand what he can look forward to leading in the future. And maybe he'll end up leading it in July; I don't know.
CN: How do you see the Tour De France competition this year?
LA: The competition is going to be good...that's my perspective. I really have nothing to add more than that. We all know the names, they'll be strong.
CN: So no cakewalk...
LA: It's never a cakewalk...all the competition will be good; all the strong guys will be there to make life stressful and hard during the race.
CN: You sound really positive and upbeat this year in contrast to last year when we spoke to you at the Dauphiné Libéré.
LA: Well I learned a lot last year; it's funny that we are staying in the very same hotel where we stayed last year after the (le Mont Ventoux) TT where I was basically drubbed...I saw what happened last year and I saw how much changes in a month, so the best thing to do is to stay calm and stay relaxed and know that the time that matters is a month from now, if not more. I feel good; I'm not on top of my game yet, but I might be concerned if I was. I'm excited and really motivated to do it (Tour De France) again. And I'm hopeful and confident that it will come.
CN: Lance, are you thinking of the 25th of July, your first day of retirement or not? As you are a master of compartmentalization, is the first day of the rest of your life getting in the way of your Tour preparation?
LA: I have to be honest, I'm thinking about life after cycling, I think about what it's going to be like to come back to places like this as a civilian, a hairy-legged guy who helps out from that perspective.
But let's not be fooled that me thinking about - or dreaming about - life after cycling is gonna get in the way of what happens during those three weeks in July. I have the dream of winning one more (Tour) and stopping and that's that. I can do both. I can focus on the Tour and consider what we're gonna do for the week after the Tour. I'm also looking forward to leaving Paris on Monday July 25th and going on a two week vacation with the kids and Sheryl.
CN: What is your pre-Tour program after the Dauphiné Libéré?
LA: The plan is a few days of recon in the Alps of the Tour stages.