By Mark Zalewski
Discovery Channel team boss Johan Bruyneel, and his tapped general classification rider American Levi Leipheimer, spoke to the media in a teleconference designed to announce the team's roster for the 2007 Tour de France. But with the nine-man squad revealed the questions quickly turned to the bigger issues of the day, ranging from doping to next year's sponsorship to predictions for the team's Tour performance post-Lance.
"I think personally that Levi is capable of finishing on the podium," Bruyneel said responding to why he chose Leipheimer. "He has been in the top ten three times and on the podium of the Tour of Spain. Last year I saw Levi really strong in the Dauphiné and the year before he finished sixth and the fifth place he only lost on the last stage into Paris to Vinokourov. Knowing that Vinokourov is now the [Tour de France] favourite I have to think that [Levi] is a serious candidate for the podium."
Bruyneel agrees with the popular pick of Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov as the pre-race favourite and even sees similarities to the seven years in which he directed the winner's team. "I see Vinokourov as the number one favourite and Astana as strong to support him," noted Bruyneel. "I think it will be like when Lance [Armstrong] was with us and we were the big favourite - with everyone looking and trying to follow hoping for him to have a weak moment, but I don't think Vinokourov is as far ahead of the competition as Lance was."
"Vinokourov is a rider with a very aggressive style, attacking at moments when he was not expected to attack," he added. "But also he has never been in the role of the number one favourite. I'm convinced that he will still be aggressive but he won't be able to go in the long breakaways. I expect him to be more conservative and he will attack when everyone expects him to attack - on the last climb or when one of his rivals is in trouble."
Leipheimer was his usual reserved self, even when describing his feelings for being tapped with the team's GC hopes. "It definitely does mean a lot to me," Leipheimer said. "I started my career with this team and now to be back with Johan and with riders like George it is like a dream come true. And to go in as the leader of the classification is something to be proud of for me."
To read more on Discovery going into the Tour de France, click here.