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In the sweltering heat of Montpellier, Lance Armstrong gave a brief press conference prior to this weekend's showdown in the Pyrenees. Not only will he have to fend off his rivals in the heat and on steep gradients over the next two days, but he will also be a central figure in some discreet ceremonies to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of his Motorola team-mate Fabio Casartelli on the Col de Portet d'Aspet. This is what Armstrong had to say about the days ahead:
On dealing with possible attacks on his race lead in the Pyrenees...
"We will let the other teams work, but it will be impossible for me to mark all the riders. We will also have to be conservative and not follow one guy. If I can't follow the explosive accelerations, then I have to wait until the end. But I might be able to follow."
On how he has made efforts to counter the idea of him as vulnerable in very hot weather.
"That impression really came about in 2003 because we did have an incredibly hot summer. I think that everybody's performance suffers in the heat and the data will show you that. But some riders of course handle it better than others. Dealing with heat happens not so much with physical make-up but on how you prepare the night before, as hydration is critical. As soon as you start to get behind, then your performance starts to evaporate.
"It's my job to start now, as I sit here and drink water, knowing that it's going to be 40 degrees and that tomorrow we have over 200 kilometres. I'm more aware of the idea that dehydration starts days out. You can't get on your bike in the morning and say 'OK - I'm gonna drink a bunch of water.' So I've tried to get ahead of it a few days ago. But, yeah, it makes me worry. I have to be prepared for hot stuff."
On the 10th anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli.
"This is the 10-year anniversary which just goes to show you how time flies, because it feels almost like yesterday that we were descending the Portet d'Aspet and I saw him there. We will pass it again and it's always a tough moment to pass that point. His wife and son will be here and his parents too, so that will be added motivation for me. We have these two stages and then there's a rest day. I know there's something planned for the rest day, so myself and Jim Ochowicz and a few other team-mates that were with Fabio that year will be part of a small ceremony, I suppose - as long as our hotel's not too far from there.
"But I've kept up my trips to Italy, and I catch up with his wife. When he died his son was just a little baby, and to see him now as a 10-year-old boy, who's a carbon copy of Fabio, is a pretty special sight. I tend to not be public about any visit to Italy to the graveside - it's a private, personal visit between me and him. He was a great guy - and he left a little baby alone, and a wife alone, so it was a tough situation. But I'll ride with his memory on Sunday for sure."
On the feeling of riding his last Tour..
"Somebody asked me yesterday what it felt like to finish my last Alpine stage as a professional cyclist and I had to honest and say I hadn't even thought about that. So it's not as if I'm being philosophical about my last Tour. I'm living in the moment, living in the moment that requires the attitude to win and I suppose I will reflect on it after the race.
"This has been a strange Tour and I will say it has been hard on the athletes, when you consider the amount of transfers, especially yesterday - three hard days in the Alps and then a two-hour transfer in the cars after the race. I don't think that's acceptable, when we talk about all the other things that go on in cycling - it has to be proper and perfect - and the athletes are treated like that. That's not cool. Other than that - and the loss of Beltran - I'm having fun."
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