Armstrong visits Discovery Channel at Giro
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
After a nine month absence from cycling's Grand Tours, Lance Armstrong is still the biggest name in the sport of cycling, Today, Armstrong returned to the European cycling scene today for a quick visit to his Discovery Channel team at Giro d'Italia in Belgium. Armstrong is in Europe for a private trip to celebrate some birthdays with friends, and as he arrived at Liege Airport after a long transatlantic flight, a tired but cheerful Armstrong gave a quick interview to RAI-TV's Alessandra Di Stefano.
Clad in his Discovery Channel team cap and warmups, when Armstrong was asked if he missed cycling, he explained, "I miss the training, I miss the team aspect. I don't miss the racing so much. I don't even miss the Tour de France! But I'm happy where I'm at...I'm an old guy and it's not that easy at 34, 35 years old to race in a Grand Tour. I'm almost old." When asked about what he's up to, Armstrong said, "I'm really busy these day, more than I want, but I'm having fun!" When DiStefano asked Armstrong about the Giro, he gave plenty of props to Paolo Savoldelli, saying, "he rode a great prologue and was a big surprise for himself and the team. He's really strong and very motivated this year and he's a really smart rider, he knows the right moment to make his move. Basso is the big favourite, but there is a lot of pressure on him. If I had to say who was going to win the Giro today, I'd say Basso, but things change."
After chatting with the Italians, Armstrong and his entourage, including USA Cycling prexy and Phonak consultant Jim Ochowicz, headed to the start of the Giro's Stage 4 in Wanze, where he spoke with Belgium's VRT TV. "I'm here just for personal reasons", explained Lance. "It's a personal trip with friends to celebrate a few birthdays. We're going to ride Alpe d'Huez. I will join my friends there, yes. I can definitely win that race! This birthday trip was always planned to start from Belgium. We'll start here and we're going to France for a few days."
When Armstrong was asked if he was afraid of going to France with all the L'Equipe allegations, he replied by saying, "Afraid? Walking around France has nothing to do with what anyone says. I was in Texas the whole time so nobody cares...It's no problem. I still like the country, still like the people. I just don't want to have coffee with Jean-Marie Leblanc or any journalist from L'Equipe."
When asked about Grand Tour contenders Ullrich and Basso, Armstrong gave his opinion: "Ullrich...he just started racing. I haven't seen him in person. I don't know if he's big or small. He could still (win the Tour). I don't understand (him being overweight). He has so much to gain...He has plenty of incentive." When the TV interviewer asked Armstrong if Basso seems more focused, the American replied, "But Basso's always been focused. He [raced the Giro and the Tour] last year and did well in both races. Probably he could have won the Giro if he wasn't sick."
The TV interviewer then asked whether Armstrong still followed professional racing, and the somewhat bemused reply came, "I care with regards to the team. If you asked me who won the Four Days of Dunkirk, I don't know and I don't care. I'm a little detached. But I still read the websites for highlights."