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Did Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France this afternoon? Maybe and maybe not, but he certainly put a firm downpayment on final victory. After repelling
T-Mobile's best efforts to shake his cage at the bottom of the Port de Pailhres, the 33 year old fought back to claim second place on the first Pyrenean stage and to gain valuable time on Danish climber, Michael Rasmussen. With tomorrow's 'etape reine' looming, here's what the defending champion said afterwards (including why he thinks of Jan Ullrich as a 'tough dude'.!)
On laying the ghost of his struggle on the climb to Ax 3 Domaines in 2003.
"I kept trying to remember my training day here about six weeks ago, not the 2003 Tour, because I felt a lot better on my training ride. But I was again with Jan (Ullrich) and Ivan (Basso). It was similar also with the heat, because it was incredibly, incredibly hot. We're definitely going to have a hard time recovering
from today's stage - certainly tomorrow's no cakewalk and it's probably the 'queen stage' as we say, the hardest stage of the Tour. But it's just a question of getting off this mountain, getting out of here as fast as possible and starting to hydrate, starting to eat, starting to rest and recover.
"We had a very early day today; once again, an hour and a half in the bus to get to the start, and I'm sure the guys have an hour and a half to get to the hotel tonight. That doesn't make it any easier, doesn't make it human. And we have an early day tomorrow, with no telling how far it is to the start tomorrow. I will try to get out of here as quick as I can and start the recovery process, but if it's this hot again tomorrow there's going to be a lot of guys going home I suspect."
On T-Mobile's attacks ..
"When you have a bunch of guys who go to the front and start riding as fast as they can you see what's going to happen. You see what order they're in and what they're setting up for. So that naturally gives you fear and in that situation you either fight back or you run away. If I had been their directeur, that probably would have been my call too. The last guy was Guerini and he was making a very fast pace. Their thing was to ride a medium-fast tempo for a long time and control the race, and to take it from 50 guys, to 20 guys, to 15 guys.
"That obviously disrupted our plans, so I think their tactics were fine, but the downside was that I was left alone for a couple of kilometres. But the other side is that when you ride like that, nobody stays around long. You quickly not only eliminate your rivals but you also eliminate your team."
On his hopes of winning a road stage.
"I can't seem to win one this year but I hope to win one. I'd like to win maybe tomorrow, but I would also be happy with victory in the St Etienne time trial. But tactics are tactics - if we have to let a group go up the road and get 10 or 15 minutes, and let them win a stage and still control the race and keep the team together. If there's a group of 10 up the road tomorrow, we're still going to have to deal with attacks from the main rivals tomorrow. We have to be prepared for that and try to ride as one unit. Tomorrow (Sunday) is very tough. I would not want to be making explosive moves tomorrow. Tomorrow you have to save everything for the final climb in my opinion."
On Jan Ullrich's resurgence.
"When you can steal 15 or 20 seconds - when you can steal that time, you have to do it. You never know what he'll do tomorrow, you never know what he'll do in the last week of the race. "
On who impressed him most - Ullrich or Basso.?
"I have to say both - they were both stronger than they had been in the Alps. I can't lie - I had expected that. But Ivan seemed to be the stronger of the two, working more - when he was on the front pulling, he was actually riding fast and he was the one doing the attacking. But at the same time, Jan, - and he's a tough dude - he kept following the attacks and he was immediately on the wheel. It wasn't as if there were gaps and Jan had to come back, which is an indication that he's very strong too."
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