Tried and tested
'Confident' Armstrong sticks with Postal teammatesPosted: Wednesday July 02, 2003 3:04 PM
PARIS (AP) -- Working on the principal that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, Lance Armstrong is sticking with tried and tested winning teammates in his drive for a record-equaling fifth straight Tour de France title.
Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team this week unveiled a nine-man squad that -- with just one exception -- is the same as the one that helped Armstrong capture his fourth Tour victory last year.
The new addition is Manuel Beltran, a Spaniard expected to assist Armstrong in the leg-crushing seven mountain stages. Beltran replaces Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg, the only member of the 2002 squad not included for this year's Tour, which starts Saturday.
And Armstrong himself?
"Very strong ... Confident," Jogi Muller, a spokesman for the Postals, said Wednesday of the 31-year-old Texan's pre-race mental state. Armstrong was arriving in Paris from Spain on Wednesday for the race.
The Tour, a grueling 23-day, 3,427.5-kilometer (2,125-mile) clockwise slog around France, is the ultimate test of individual endurance, but few can win it without a good team.
In his biography, "It's Not About the Bike," Armstrong explained how teammates are crucial to his success. On windy days or up steep climbs, they stay in front, shielding and sucking him along in their drafts.
They chase down riders who try to surge off ahead and protect the team leader from the jostling that goes on in the "peloton," the pack.
"Every team needs guys who are sprinters, guys who are climbers, guys willing to do the dirty work," Armstrong wrote. "You don't win a road race all on your own."
If he wins, Armstrong will join Spanish legend Miguel Indurain as only the second rider to capture five consecutive Tours. Indurian won in 1991-95. Three other racers have won five Tours, but none of them consecutively.
Two Postals -- George Hincapie and Floyd Landis -- overcame injuries and illness to make this Tour's roster.
Landis, 27, from San Diego, broke a hip falling during a training ride in January near his southern California home. Hincapie, a South Carolinian who turned 30 last Sunday, missed many of the early season races with a severe respiratory infection.
In a statement announcing the roster, Postal sporting director Johan Bruyneel said: "I'm confident that this year's team is our strongest possible lineup."
As for Armstrong, who won the warmup Dauphine Libere race in June, "he's at least as strong as last year," said Bruyneel.
Beltran, the 32-year-old climber signed by the Postals from Team Coast this year, joined two other Spaniards, Jose Luis Rubiera and Roberto Heras.
Heras told the French newspaper L'Equipe that while he hopes to win one of the Tour's 20 stages, his priority is to help Armstrong to overall victory.
"If Lance is at 100 percent, he can only win," Heras said in an interview published Wednesday on L'Equipe's Web site.
The other members of the "Blue Train," the nickname given to the Postals because of their blue uniforms and single determination, are Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia, Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic and Colombian rider Victor Hugo Pena.
They "have the experience and proved at the Dauphine that they are ready for the job," said Bruyneel.