By Jean-François Quénet in Ölüdeniz
On the start line of stage four in the Presidential Tour of Turkey, two experienced riders shook hands like old brothers in arms, Luxembourg champion Benoît Joachim of Astana and José Azevedo from Benfica. In a fraction of a second, they remembered their old good time together at US Postal (2004) and Discovery Channel (2005 and 2006). It might be the last Tour that the pair ride together, as Azevedo announced he would end his career later this season.
The 34-year-old former lieutenant of Lance Armstrong has decided to race up until the Volta a Portugal in mid-August, but will go out with plenty of fond memories of the sport. "I have a lot to remember but the 2004 Tour de France definitely remains my best memory in cycling," Azevedo said. "I helped Lance break the record with six wins and I got my best personal placing in fifth as well." The Portuguese also came in sixth in the 2002 Tour de France and fifth in the 2001 Giro d'Italia when he raced for ONCE.
His cycling career started in 1994 with Boavista. It will come to an end when he turns 35 in September this year. "It's a definite decision," he explained. "I still had one year left in my contract with Discovery Channel for 2007, but I asked Johan Bruyneel to free me because I felt that I needed a change, and I wanted to finish my career in my country after so many years racing out of Portugal.
"There was the new ambitious project of Benfica as a Pro Continental team. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to be part of it. I don't regret what I've done because we get a lot of support back home being a cycling team of a famous football club."
Something special attracted Azevedo back to Portugal: "I want to win the Tour of Portugal before I quit." Since he finished his national tour in sixth position last year, he only has one opportunity left for reaching his goal and it's this August.
He's no longer on an agenda that includes the Grand Tours but he seemed happy to take part in the Presidential Tour of Turkey. "On the second day I made the breakaway and I thought the final winner would one of us," he said. "But another move went yesterday and five riders were the same. That included my team-mate Danail Petrov, so I put myself at his service." Back in a local team, Portugal's most famous cyclist from the past ten years still has the instinct to work for the others as he did for Joseba Beloki at ONCE and Lance Armstrong at USPS and Discovery Channel.
"There is a future for cycling in a country like Turkey," he discovered. "It's a good race. The roads aren't too bad. The organization has to improve a little bit but there aren't big things to change, mostly the timing because we race quite late here." Towards the end of his career, Azevedo is in a rush to finish.