By Hedwig Kröner in Paris
Just before the departure of the last stage of the 2005 Tour de France to Paris, Cyclingnews took the time to ask Liberty Seguros team director and Spanish cycling representative #1 Manolo Saiz for a final word on this year's Grande Boucle.
"A final word?" he asked back. "Well, that can only be one of congratulations to Lance Armstrong, no? Not only for this year's Tour, but also for the whole of his career. He sets the perfect example of professionalism and capacity of sacrifice for young riders, as well as being an ambassador of cycling for the whole world. That's my final word."
Did he think that he Johan Bruyneel managed his team differently in order to achieve these record-breaking successes? "No - the difference is the individual capacity Armstrong has to focus on his profession. Jalabert, or Zülle were also like that, but other riders just aren't. The motivation to train is higher - and if you lack that, you won't win, and that's it."
"For a lot of riders, cycling is more of a game," he explained further. "It's easy to earn a lot of money and continue with the game rather than transcending the barrier of true professionalism. Armstrong has done that and much more; he is truly a racing professional."
As for his own team's performance at the Tour, Saiz had to admit that his designated GC leader, Roberto Heras, might not be made for the French stage race after all. "The only explanation for a rider who comes to the Tour highly motivated, having raced it already, with a team to back him up and who loses like Heras did is that he is not a rider for the Tour. Then again, in the past, Heras rode the Tour and then came to the Vuelta strong enough to win it. The team's attitude, meanwhile, has been extraordinary. All of the rest of our team rode a very good Tour. For me, the racing behaviour of Alberto Contador, Allan Davis and Luis Leon Sanchez is most important. They're very young, but they make me very optimistic about the future," he smiled.
In light of a number of riders already announcing a change of team, Saiz was asked about his roster for 2006, but he wasn't ready to respond. "We're not there yet - the Vuelta is still to come. The Italians get into contract negotiations after the Giro, all the others after the Tour, but we Spanish start only with the Vuelta. I will try to get a GC rider for the Tour de France, but somebody who can give our younger riders a little bit of liberty, too." Meanwhile, the signing of Alexandre Vinokourov has been made official [see news story].
Looking ahead to next year's Tour de France, Saiz said that although he admired Armstrong's career achievement, he thought cycling might benefit from his retirement. "The next Tour is very, very open," he said. "There will be a change of generation soon. But apart from the fact that there aren't a lot of champions who can achieve a series of victories like Indurain or Armstrong did, I would like to see a lot of different winners in the next 10, 12 years. It would be good for cycling in general, as the public was losing interest."