Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) played the role of minder to team-mate and race leader George Hincapie in yesterday's first road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. Along with the rest of the Discovery team, Armstrong worked to protect Hincapie's one-second lead over Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) in a stage that came down to a bunch sprint won by Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).
"The important thing, is that the team wins," Hincapie told reporters before the start of the stage, but if that meant the leader jersey might ultimately be handed over to Armstrong, Discovery's plan in stage one was clearly to keep it on Hincapie's shoulders.
The stage was animated by a six-man break that built a lead of just over five minutes after 82km, but the peloton, led by a Discovery Channel team with Armstrong taking turns on the front and Stijn Devolder and Benajmin Noval sharing the bulk of the work, chased them down.
In a press conference after Sunday's prologue Armstrong discussed his goals for the Dauphiné, which include a victory in the time trial up Mont Ventoux. "It would be nice to ultimately win something there," he said. "Again I had that illusion last year and was quickly reminded one hour later that I wasn't anywhere near victory."
"I have a lot of respect and a lot of fear of that mountain and I think that I better just keep it like that and we will see come Thursday. It will be a special ride the last time up Ventoux in a race."
Looking further ahead, Armstrong still sees Jan Ullrich as his greatest competitor in the Tour de France, but the strength in depth of T-Mobile makes the whole squad a threat. "Logical to say that Jan is the favourite but what makes them dangerous is the combination of their three top men," said Armstrong. "They are all great riders and riders we have to pay attention to. Kloden is riding better, Jan is riding better and Vino is just as strong as ever, so it's a triple threat. Having said that I feel confident that we have a team that can neutralize that triple threat with riders like Popovych, Azevedo, Savoldelli and myself."