Armstrong: "Discovery can play the victory"

Interviewed by Yves Perret from the newspaper that runs the eponymously-named Critérium du Dauphiné...

Interviewed by Yves Perret from the newspaper that runs the eponymously-named Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, Lance Armstrong said on the Thursday evening before the race "Discovery can play the victory".

However, the six-time Tour winner was referring to his able lieutenant and Tour of Catalunya winner, Yaroslav Popovych - not himself. "It is difficult to say because I have not raced for a long time," said Armstrong about his own form. "I feel really good, I'm in good health, and I didn't encounter any problems with my preparation."

Speaking about his preparation, Armstrong said it has been "more or less the same", but alternating more frequently between his home in the States and Europe. Concentrating on endurance as well as a few sessions of intense training, he added his efforts on longer climbs was solid, where he used both the hills around Los Angeles and Girona.

When asked why he spent less time reconnoitering the Pyrenéan stages than previous years, Armstrong admitted "this year, we had a little less time" - but will add to his three days already spent in the Pyrenées after the conclusion of the Dauphiné with another three of four days in the Alps. "Roughly speaking, I will have devoted same time to it as the previous years," he said.

Although naming Popovych as their man for the race, Armstrong intends to go all-out himself at next Wednesday's time trial in Roanne, particularly after falling well short of his best at the time trial in the Tour of Georgia a month and a half ago. "And then there is Ventoux, this bastard!"

But while he describes the 'Giant of Provence' in this way, Armstrong said he has a love-hate relationship with the mythical mountain. "Of course it will be a little special, because there is a long history between him [Ventoux] and me, a love-hate relationship," he said. "The act of climbing Ventoux the last time is like, at the end of July, my last passage as a rider down the Champs-Élysées. These places count in the history of cycling and my own history."

On not having the presence of Vjateslav Ekimov by his side, the 33 year-old said: "He is an important guy on the bike but also in the life of the team, where he sets an example. For us, his absence is a large loss but there is no choice; it necessary to make do without him, and to have nine guys in form at the beginning of the Grande Boucle. But it would have been great to fight my last Tour with a guy like him, a friend for whom I have enormous respect."

Armstrong then spoke a little about life after his retirement, saying he is excited by the prospect. "I want to spend as much time possible with my kids. I do not want to live anymore how I live in this moment. Me here and them in Texas! You know, 14 years in professional cycling, I have not done too badly with my time."

It may seem like he has psychologically retired, but Armstrong added he feels practically the same as previous years going into the 2005 Tour de France, even though he knows he knows he'll soon arrive at the end of the road. "But that [retirement] does not change anything in the way of my commitment or approach in the coming weeks," he said.

"When I roll down the start ramp on July 2, it is to win. You can have a good time, enjoy the last Tour de France and still win it," added Armstrong at a press conference on Saturday evening. "There may come a time when I'm not anywhere near the front and we can say, 'He approached the Tour as a retired athlete.' I hope that's not the case."

Armstrong finished 5th in the opening time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré in Aix-les-Bains yesterday, six seconds behind his team-mate and stage winner George Hincapie.

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