It's not all about Lance
When Paolo Savoldelli crossed the line last Sunday to win his second Giro d'Italia, the victory was not only significant for him, but also for his team. It was their eighth Grand Tour victory since 1999 and their third stage race win in a row, but perhaps more importantly, it was a victory without Lance Armstrong.
"Especially this year, it's a very important start for the team. It's Lance's last season and last Tour de France, and with a new title sponsor, the expectations were very high and in our first big race, we came out with the final victory with somebody other than Lance," said team manager Johan Bruyneel in a team statement.
"I think that's proof, especially to Discovery Channel and our other sponsors, that we are doing things the right way. It's proof we can pick our riders. We brought on Savoldelli for that purpose [the Giro] and Popovych for the future, and he's already come through with a big win for us [Tour of Catalunya]."
Savoldelli's return to top form also bodes well for their Tour de France campaign, allowing Bruyneel the flexibility to run with a number of different strategies. "It's a great feeling to have a big Tour winner on your team to support the team," he said.
"And also, you can't forget it will help us in terms of tactics. It will be our advantage to have a few dangerous guys in there who can take advantage of certain strategies we plan out. It definitely will make a difference. I think most importantly, it takes the pressure off of us. Although at the Tour with Lance, we are always under a certain amount of pressure."
While the team's future looks bright for life after Armstrong, Bruyneel was keen to point out that until that day happens, it's still about Lance.
"Of course, Lance is still and always has been our most important rider and one who has given us the most over the years. Yet his performances have been so overwhelming that a lot of other guys have been in the shadows a bit. It's clear now we can definitely assemble a team and be very successful," he said.
Demol at Wachovia: "we all know Sunday is what counts"
Discovery's assistant directeur sportif Dirk Demol had plenty of praise for Health Net's performance at the Lancaster Invitational, and expects the outcome of today's race in Trenton to end in a bunch sprint - but adds Sunday's USPRO Championships in Philadelphia will be "something completely different".
"Lancaster is not an easy race - it's a tough course that is always up and down. Health Net impressed me, as they had four riders in the winning breakaway and finished first and third. If I remember well, tomorrow is always very, very fast and will come down to a big sprint finish," said Demol.
"But after tomorrow's race, Sunday is something completely different, a race that favours the teams that race in Europe all the time because of the distance [250km/ 156 miles]. We were disappointed [on Tuesday], but we all know Sunday is what counts the most for us."
Continued Demol: "We have a different type of team here than in the past and have four really strong riders right now in Max [van Heeswijk], Roger Hammond, Leif Hoste and Jurgen Van den Broeck. Tony Cruz is going well but is coming off the Giro and while he won't race until Sunday. I'm confident of the group we have here that we can do something. But in a race like this in the U.S., it will be the same as it always is - everyone will look to watch our every move."
McCartney passes first Grand Tour test
"I went into the Giro pretty opened minded," said Jason McCartney about his first go at riding at Grand Tour, which he came through with flying colours.
"I knew it was super long and wanted to conserve some energy and save what I could for the last week. But the first week was insane. With 50 kilometres to go in every stage, it was curb-to-curb and everyone was nervous. This lasted for about a week and a half until it calmed down a bit. Once the GC settled in and some of the sprinters went home, things settled a bit."
McCartney added the experience of riding the world road championships and Olympic Games road race, as well as some other major events in the US, helped him get over the nerves of racing with and against the world's best cyclists - although he did receive some ill-advice from team-mate Chechu Rubiera.
"He [Rubiera] said I will love racing in Italy. It's very calm and then all you race is the final two hours. He said riders ride ahead to visit their families on the road. Well, that didn't happen at all. It was fast from the gun. Maybe it's because of the ProTour this year."
Speaking about the moment the team thought a win was possible, McCartney said it happened on Stage 11 to Zoldo Alto, when Savoldelli won his first stage, ahead of pre-race favourite Ivan Basso (Team CSC). "After Paolo won his stage, it all changed for us. We began making all the extra efforts and CSC began to burn itself out, riding so aggressively from the start. We hung back and did what we needed for the first half.
Asked what was going through his mind towards the end of the Giro, McCartney said it was the thought of lining up for the Tour de Suisse, which begins Saturday week. "I kept saying, 'Man, now I have to do that race? I've got to recover first.'"
Following that race, McCartney will return to his U.S. home in Iowa, where he will enjoy a short three weeks break. "I've got a lot of housework to catch up on," he said.