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"We have to wait and see," repeated a non-committal Johan Bruyneel this afternoon, when quizzed on his team's plans for the coming mountain stages.
Lance Armstrong was keeping a low profile at the Discovery Channel hotel in the suburbs of Grenoble and, as the defending Tour champion kept his counsel and rested, it was left to team manager Bruyneel to meet the press.
"Lance is relaxed, but that doesn't mean he's less motivated," said Bruyneel. "The only pressure this year is the pressure he puts on himself. Last year was different, because nobody had ever managed to win six. All the great champions had failed to achieve that, so he was under a lot of pressure.
"But he's a great champion," Bruyneel insisted. "All great champions want to win. One of his big motivations is that his three children are coming to the final three or four days of the race and he wants them to see him in the yellow jersey."
So would tomorrow's stage, which at first glance looks tailor-made for an Armstrong attack, see more of the champion's trademark summit spectaculars. "Well, I hope it's the same this time," said Bruyneel. "This is the first big mountain stage so in theory there will be attacks. A lot of teams are ready. But we will see.
"Maybe it's going to come down to the final time trial," he said. "There's nothing that can tell me today that Lance will definitely be in yellow tomorrow."
With Jan Ullrich recovering from yet another spill after his high-speed fall on the stage to Mulhouse, Bruyneel maintained that T-Mobile still had three riders capable of challenging for victory.
"Ullrich's crash affected him before the time trial," mused Bruyneel. "Two big crashes in one week affect you, but we'll see. We have to watch all three T-Mobile leaders."
And Bruyneel revealed that the media-bashing his team had endured at the hands of the European press after the first stage in the Vosges would be used as a motivational tool. "They're definitely motivated by negative media," said Bruyneel. "The guys are very proud. This team has won six Tours. But the mountains will put everybody back in their place."
If he sounded a little uncertain - and in places he did - Bruyneel had no doubts over Armstrong's significance to both his own career as a directeur and to the professional sport as a whole.
"He has surpassed being a bike champion - and there's not anybody else ready to take that same status," said Bruyneel. "Life goes on, but I don't think we can look for a new Lance because I don't think there's a candidate."
And the Belgian dismissed suggestions that Armstrong had always had luck on his side on the way to his six consecutive Tour wins. "What is it that Americans say?" asked Bruyneel. "The harder I work the luckier I get."
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