Lance backs Landis to be Boss

Lance Armstrong's 48-hour cameo in France included a ride up Alpe d'Huez, some diplomatic needlework

Lance Armstrong's 48-hour cameo in France included a ride up Alpe d'Huez, some diplomatic needlework
PIC BY TIM DE WAELE Lance Armstrong has tipped former team-mate Floyd Landis to succeed him as Tour champion on the Champs Elyses...and has said that he would welcome an eighth American victory in as many years. Armstrong made the comments in a press briefing in Alpe d'Huez on Tuesday. Having climbed the Alpe with Discovery Channel directeur sportif Sean Yates and former team-mate Kevin Livingston on Monday, the seven-time former champion spent the second day of his Tour sejour watching Landis reclaim his yellow jersey on the legendary slopes. Clearly keen to play down talk of an ongoing rift with the Tour's current leader, Armstrong said that he wasn't surprised by his ex-US Postal lieutenant's performances. "Floyd is riding great, but then he's been riding great all season. He has two minutes over the next best guy, so if I was a betting man I'd put my money on Floyd," Armstrong said. "Floyd is a smart guy, a smart bike rider. He rode perfectly today, just sitting on Kloeden's wheel. There was a moment when he looked in trouble, but he just went to the front and set his own pace. I would have done exactly the same thing. "Floyd and I have had our ups and downs," he continued. "We've had our discussions, but I don' t think that the relationship was ever as bad as people thought...I'd love to see an American keep the jersey in the States." Asked if Landis's victory would be devalued by the absence of last year's top five finishers, Armstrong admitted that "there will an asterisk by the name of the 2006 Tour champion, but I hate to say that". He stressed, though, that "whoever stands on the top step of the podium in Paris will have trained their tail off and be a worthy winner." Armstrong admitted that he "cares a lot" for Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, but has not contacted either man since they were barred from the Tour due to their involvement in the Operacion Puerto doping enquiry. He added that the pre-race cull of top riders brought to mind last autumn's official Tour de France presentation and, in particular, an accusatory speech by Tour chief Jean-Marie Leblanc. "I'll never forget reading that speech, what Jean-Marie said about how it was time for a change, about how the race was going to have these great new champions. Maybe now [the Tour organisation] realizes that it wasn't so bad when I was around. "I actually called Jean-Marie when it all happened," he continued. "I was calling him sincerely, to say that I was sorry about what had happened and to wish him good luck. I was surprised when he picked up the phone, but he seemed agitated and said that he'd call me back. He never called, which is a shame, because it was genuine." If he was sincere about Leblanc, Armstrong could afford to be flippant about another French national treasure, Zinedine Zidane. Asked whether his comments about the French soccer team at the ESPY sports awards in Los Angeles had caused him any headaches on his visit to France, "the Boss" smiled: ".maybe Zidane has a head-ache, but not me."
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