Bruyneel on Suisse
Speaking about the recent Tour of Switzerland, which revealed a number of strong contenders for the upcoming Tour de France, Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel lent his thoughts on what he saw from the television.
"Gonzalez was quite impressive, as was Horner," he said in a team statement. "The way Horner won his stage [Stage 6] and then even on Sunday [Stage 9], he was very strong as well. The Tour is a very different race, but he can do pretty well. He has surprised a lot of people."
"[Michael] Rogers was riding a very good race but unfortunately for him, he came up against a super-strong Gonzalez. It's just proof that in pro cycling, you can never say that a certain team isn't good. It always changes. Look at them [Euskaltel-Euskadi] - they had a difficult start and it took a long time to win a race or even a stage in a race, and then they win two big ProTour races one after the other. It's the beautiful thing about cycling: everything can change, and does."
Bruyneel also said he was somewhat surprised by Jan Ullrich's below-par performance, even though the German wasn't vying for the win.
"As for Ullrich, I expected him to do better. I don't think he was trying to win, as winning the Tour de Suisse probably wasn't one of his goals, but he was dropped on the uphill finish to Arosa and [last Sunday], I don't think he got dropped on purpose, either. I still think he'll be there for the Tour. He's been in similar situations leading up to the Tour."
Having said that, does Bruyneel still feel Ullrich is Armstrong's biggest threat?
"In my opinion, yes. We all know in a three week stage race, he gets stronger as the race goes on," he said.
Ekimov recovering well
It's now been a month since Viatcheslav Ekimov's operation that was the result of a training crash he had in late April while out riding with Lance Armstrong, where he suffered one broken and two compressed vertebrae. To date, the Russian is reported to be recovering well, now riding on the home-trainer one hour a day, and using the chance of a spot at the world road championships in late September as motivation.
"They [the screws and plates] are small, yes, but when I saw them, I had to ask the doctor: 'Are you sure there is enough room in there for all of that?'" Ekimov said about the six titanium screws and small plates used to hold together his broken vertebrae.
"I'm doing an hour on the bike and now feel much better afterwards. I sweat a lot and it helps circulate the blood to help the healing. I feel much better. I don't feel the plates or screws much anymore or the pain in the back. Just my muscles are very sore. I'm living much more normal now. I can walk as much as I want, although my legs are not very used to walking. Like all cyclists, we don't like to walk too much."
Although Ekimov hasn't spoken to his national federation about riding the World's in Madrid, he's aware the selection process begins this month, so he'll have to resume racing as soon as physically possible. "I don't want to them actually hold a place for me unless I deserve it, but making that team is a big goal for me," he said.
"Unreasonably high expectations" in Eindhoven
Discovery make not have fielded their strongest line-up in the inaugural ProTour team time trial last Sunday, but the team's assistant sports manager, Sean Yates, was pleased with their fifth-place effort, finishing a shade under a minute back from Gerolsteiner.
"We had unreasonably high expectations. But Billy [Volodymyr Bileka] and Pavel [Padrnos] just got off the Giro and hadn't raced since, while Stijn [Devolder] is strong but hadn't raced any team time trials before, I think, and was a bit out of his depth," said Yates.
"We did the most with what we had and our stronger guys did longer turns and even had to hold back a bit. But we basically maintained our position throughout and finished strong, which I was happy about. When things weren't going our way, we held it together and finished a respectable fifth."
Overall, Bruyneel had positive thoughts on the event, but believed the timing to be a little amiss: "It was a pretty special event because it was only with six riders, so it's a bit different than the normal team time trial with eight or nine. The UCI has really pushed for this event and mainly, it's a nice event, a real team event," he said.
"However, maybe the timing is not ideal. To have the race in the middle of the Tour of Switzerland [actually, the final day of the race - ed.] while other guys are preparing for the Tour, maybe the dates can change, but definitely, it's an event I would like to see come back. It's an interesting race."
On a side note, Yates will join Bruyneel at the 2005 Tour de France from the team car, which will be his second participation as a directeur-sportif, having been an assistant DS with CSC at the 2003 Tour. As a rider, he was a 12-time Tour finisher.