By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême
After seven Tour de France victories for Lance Armstrong, the Discovery Channel team's Belgian managing duo of Johan Bruyneel and Dirk Demol are close to clinching another win in the world's biggest cycling event. The two Belgians were obviously delighted with the performance of their pupil Alberto Contador Velasco. "It was unexpected but fantastic," a delighted Demol said to Cyclingnews. Unexpected because the untouchable Dane Michael Rasmussen had to leave the Tour right after the last mountains stage after his 'whereabouts'-problems.
After having made peace with a second place behind Rasmussen, the team was suddenly offered the yellow jersey with only the ultimate 55km time trial to decide the result of the 94th Tour de France. "We could profit from the hard labour Rabobank put in and we were not happy with the situation," Demol explained his reservations about the situation. "After the Col d'Aubisque Alberto was with me in the car to work things out and we concluded that we should be happy if he could keep his second place as he already had his stage win and the white jersey." After the departure of Rasmussen it was clear that Contador would be very close to the overall victory, earning him a big bonus. "If he has a good manager it will be in his contract," Demol laughed, "but for me regrettably not."
The team of Johan Bruyneel is still in doubts over its future since it still lacks a main sponsor for 2008. Dirk Demol expressed he was confident there would be a solution for that problem. "We're riding strong all year long, only the Spring Classics were - due to circumstances - a bit less good although we still managed to claim a second place in Milano-Sanremo. We've won a lot all year long," Demol referred to wins in Paris-Nice, Vuelta a Castilla-Leon, Tour of Belgium, Tour of Austria, Tour de Georgia, Tour of California.
The Discovery Channel team has more GC-riders in their team with young guys like Tom Danielson, Janez Brajkovic and Stijn Devolder who will all hope to do well in the Vuelta d'España. The team seems to be the breeding ground of future champions and Cyclingnews asked Dirk Demol if there's still improvement possible for Alberto Contador.
"He's time trial should become a little better," Demol immediately found a point to work on, despite the fact that Contador had just finished fifth in the last long time trial of the Tour de France. "He can become even better since he's only 24 years old. He's already top-class in the climbs and of course there, there's not much improvement possible, but maybe his time trial. It was a little less in the last week and I think he must thank this fifth place to the yellow jersey. It must have given him wings because otherwise he wouldn't be able to finish fifth today."
There has been several a young Grand Tour winner who never went on to confirm those early results, with Jan Ullrich as most recent example of one who failed to live up to his prodigy - but Demol was confident this would not be the case with his young Spaniard. "We don't know how Ullrich was at younger age but we know Contador a little bit and we have confidence that it will not be a one-off winner," Demol assured Cyclingnews.
When talking about multiple wins in the Tour de France it's inevitable that the name of Lance Armstrong will arise, especially in the Discovery Channel camp. 'Big Tex' was in the team car behind Contador to support him during the time trial. "Lance is someone who keeps leaving his stamp on the team and all week long we knew he would come," Demol explained. "After the stage to Plateau de Beille he called almost every evening with Alberto and that gave him a lot of confidence." The 24 year-old Spaniard obviously need that confidence since he appeared to be a little nervous at the start on Friday. "He was most nervous when he heard that Rasmussen had to go home, he wondered how he had to handle the leadership. In the evening it was already better and our experience told us that these guys can perform under pressure."