Cofidis rider Matt White, set to make an at-long-last Tour debut this year, believes Lance Armstrong is still the man to beat in the Tour - but won't be beaten in his final appearance.
"He's changed cycling, he's changed the way people prepare for a Tour de France and the way people prepare their teams for a Tour de France . . ." White told Melissa Ryan of The Age, "There's no weak link in that team, and there's no weak link in Lance Armstrong. He's definitely the one to beat, and I honestly can't see him being beaten."
White will ride his first Tour this year alongside friend and team-mate Stuart O'Grady - provided, that is, nothing goes wrong. White earned a strong nomination for the title of '2004's unluckiest rider' when he crashed and broke his collarbone just before the start of last year's Tour. In 2001 he was expected to ride the Tour as part of the US Postal team but did not make the final team selection and in 1999 his Vini Caldirola team had its Tour invitation withdrawn when Sergei Gontchar failed a haematocrit test at the Tour of Switzerland.
After that run of bad luck, White is a shade fatalistic about starting the Tour. "Nothing's final until you actually roll down that ramp," he said. After his crash three weeks ago, when he hit a truck that pulled in front of him then suddenly braked for a traffic light, White must be hoping that he has used up his lifetime allocation of pre-Tour problems.
Despite the hoopla surrounding the Tour, White is taking his Grand Boucle debut in his stride. "You get to the point where, not that you don't care, but it's just another race and you've just got to treat it that way," he said. "Obviously it's a very important race, but it's nothing new to me . . . I've done four Giros and four Vueltas, so it's not like I'm new to three-week stage racing. I'm really looking forward to playing in the biggest show on earth."