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The Discovery Channel team have released a statement making clear the degree of team manager Johan Bruyneel's anger when the organisers of the Tour de France failed to make a single notable mention of seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong at the 2006 race launch in Paris last Thursday. Bruyneel, though, admitted he was hoping to use the snub as a motivational device for his team next season.
"I walked away a bit angry but at the same time, and I have to thank the Tour for this, more driven than ever before," Bruyneel said. "One of the things Lance passed on to me was to find motivation out of unpleasant things. I walked away thinking about how we are going to try to win the Tour de France next year."
Yet, Bruyneel was having difficulty focusing on the route following the presentation. "What I can say is that it seems some have quickly forgotten what Lance and our team have done for the Tour over the past seven years," he said. "I left the presentation today more motivated than ever for the new challenge ahead for me. We've lived for the Tour 365 days a year and I plan to keep doing that."
The launch began with a video recap of the 2005 Tour and Bruyneel, along with many of his peers, was surprised to see Armstrong largely ignored in the 10-minute video. "My general feeling was disappointment," Bruyneel said. "It almost felt like it was raining in the room. But it wasn't a big surprise to me. The organisation was quoted as saying they would have preferred Lance not come back to try and win a seventh Tour. And, looking back, I remember when we went to them first, before we made it public, that Lance would indeed race the Tour this year I can tell you ASO wasn't jumping up and down when they got the news.
"When I think back on all that, it's been the same scenario for them for years. A French rider hasn't won the Tour in 20 years. Why? Simple, they haven't been good enough. And then you see the final ProTour standings and notice there were four Americans in the top 10 (Armstrong, fifth; Levi Leipheimer, seventh; Bobby Julich, ninth; George Hincapie, 10th) and for the French, they had four riders in the top 100 (David Moncouti, 30th; Anthony Geslin, 62nd; Christophe Moreau, 79th; Laurent Brochard, 84th). That's the facts. It's nothing more than that. I realise it's frustrating for them."
On the 2006 route itself, Bruyneel said the biggest change was the exclusion of the team time trial event, won the last three years by an Armstrong-led team. "We will probably be the most affected by it since we've won it the last three years," Bruyneel said. "But I've always said that since they applied the new rule to the stage, which I never approved of, it made the stage less interesting when the time losses were capped. It was a very stressful day and almost had no major change to the race. Plus, we've heard that most of the spectators didn't really understand what was going on as well. You either need to have it full on, or not."
Bruyneel added that while the 115 kilometres of time trials favoured a rider like Jan Ullrich, his favourite is still Ivan Basso. He concluded: "No other team has sacrificed more for the Tour than us over the last seven years. We have always put it ahead every other race and have planned our entire season around it. Even without Lance, that won't change."
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