By Anthony Tan in Karlsruhe
Compared to last year, defending champ Lance Armstrong says the pressure he feels on himself is a little less than 2004. "I'm a little relieved that I don't have that pressure of trying to win a sixth Tour that nobody thought could come, so this one feels different in that regard," he said after the finish of the seventh stage in Karlsruhe today.
"But also the race is about to start," cautioned Armstrong, making sure the press knew he or his Discovery Channel team wasn't letting his guard down. "We've made it through the first week, there's been no crashes [in our team], so it's been a pretty good first week. Of course, these stages are always scary, trying to stay out of trouble."
One of these scary stages happened only yesterday, where a mass pile-up in the closing kilometres saw Alexandre Vinokourov and Lorenzo Bernucci gain a few valuable seconds on the rest of the peloton; however, the 33 year-old Texan downplays the significance of what has largely been a over-hyped set of circumstances. "I have to be honest and say that there's been too much made about 'a' move," said Armstrong.
"There was a large crash, so he [Vinokourov] was perfectly placed, staying at the front, staying out of trouble - when 50 guys crash behind you, you're in the front. I think we all know that had the corner been dry, being in second position with 900 metres to go, you wouldn't have been second in the stage. So, to me, it was a rider who stayed in the front, stayed out of trouble, he's a great bike handler and he was in the perfect place. But with three or four k to go, I don't think Vino was going, 'I'm going for the stage win' - I think Vino was thinking: 'I'm going to stay out of trouble and stay up front.'
"But whatever we say, it's seven seconds on the line, 12 second in bonifications... 19 seconds is not a lot of time, in fact - but he's keeping us in check, I guess."
What he did observe about the Vinokourov's move, however, was the obvious motivation showed by the Kazakhstan rider. Said Armstrong: "Vino's always aggressive, he's always ready to attack - he's a great rider, and I think he's especially motivated for this Tour."
Speaking about the stages this weekend, the six-time winner admitted he hadn't reconnoitred the parcours for Saturday or Sunday, but if a rider from another team goes on the offensive, he'll welcome it. "I have to confess I don't know these stages, I don't know the climbs - only what I've seen on paper as to the length and the gradient of it - but I feel certain that my condition's getting up to following some attacks... I mean, some attacks would be nice, so we don't have a field sprint in the end," he said.