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oreau eyeing polka-dot crown, late change for Fassa, Boonen wants stage win first, Botero hoping fo

oreau eyeing polka-dot crown, late change for Fassa, Boonen wants stage win first, Botero hoping fo

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Crdit Agricole's Christophe Moreau is opting for a change of strategy this year. After several seasons when he has focused entirely on the overall classification and often been France's best-placed rider, the 34 year old has now got his eye on the King of the Mountains title, feeling that there is more to be gained by winning that than finishing best Frenchman but well down the overall roll of honour. "I am even prepared to lose a few minutes on GC in order to win a few points in the mountains," said Moreau, who won the opening stage of the 2001 Tour.

- Fassa Bortolo have been forced to make a late change to their team after Paolo Bossoni fell ill with gastroenteritis. He has been replaced by 23-year-old Mauro Facci, who will be making his Tour debut.

- Tom Boonen has said that he will initially focus on winning a stage before he thinks about challenging for the points title this year. The Belgian winner of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix said in a pre-race press conference that he felt his pre-Tour preparation had gone as well as it could have and that he is full of confidence. "I would prefer to win a stage than finish second in the contest for the best sprinter," said Boonen, although he did indicate that he would be looking to gain points in intermediate sprints with the green jersey in mind.

- T-Mobile's Oscar Sevilla is hopeful that he might be able to produce his best form at the Tour since he finished seventh in 2001 having finally found a cure for his long-standing back problems. Tests conducted by his German team revealed that Sevilla's sciatic nerve was partially trapped. "It could hardly be seen on the x-rays, but since it was sorted out last winter I have progressed and hope that this Tour will see me return to my best level. That would be good for the team because I think that Ullrich and Vinokourov might need me," said the Spanish climber.

- The 189 riders representing 21 teams who will start the Tour de France in Fromentine on Saturday all underwent and passed the UCI's routine pre-race medical tests on Thursday. In other words, all riders have been declared fit to compete and none exceeded 50 per cent threshold above which the UCI deems a blood sample 'suspicious' and orders the rider in question to observe a 15-day 'rest period'. The UCI may, however, consider certain riders' test results sufficiently close to haemoglobin, haematocrit and reticulocyte limits to target them with follow-up urine tests in the coming days. On the eve of last year's Grande Boucle, Euskaltel rider Gorka Gonzalez was forbidden from starting the Tour after failing his pre-race blood test.

- Phonak star Santiago Botero has outlined his ambition to prolong his 2005 revival by finishing on the Tour de France podium in Paris on July 24. After spending two years in the wilderness with T-Mobile, the 32 year old from Medellin signalled his return to form this spring with a stage victory and overall success at the Tour of Romandy and another stage win at the Dauphin Libr. Now, despite playing down his chances of taking the first yellow jersey of the race in Saturday's 19km opening time trial, Botero is aiming to improve on his career-best finish of 4th place in the 2002 Tour:

"I'm not sure that I can take the yellow jersey straight away," Botero admitted. "I'm not a dreamer and I know that all of the best riders in the world are at the Tour: Armstrong, Ullrich, Rogers, Cancellara. I also find it hard to get into the mix straight away, even if the course suits me. My objective at this year's Tour is to finish on the podium. That would be a fantastic achievement. In 2003 and 2004, I had health problems which ended up affecting my morale. Now, though, I'm in great shape and my confidence is sky high."

That morale can only have been boosted by the news that 20 of Phonak's 25 riders have signed two-year contract extensions, despite ongoing doubts about the long-term commitment of the Swiss hearing aid manufacturer. Botero was one of a handful of riders who signed their new contracts on Tuesday after arriving in France. Floyd Landis and Robert Hunter also signed two-year extensions.

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