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Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel tonight hailed a superb Discovery Channel victory in the 67.5km Tour de France prologue between Tours and Blois, with Bruyneel declaring that the class of 2005 could be "the best team [I] have ever managed".
Armstrong then paid tribute to his team-mates and in particular Tour rookie Yaroslav Popovych. Both Armstrong and Bruyneel had feared that the absence of injured veteran Viatcheslav Ekimov from the Discovery Channel line-up could hamper their victory bid. Tonight, though, Armstrong said that Popovych had been a more than adequate replacement.
"That win was for Eki," said Armstrong, who tonight leads team-mate George Hincapie by 55 seconds on general classification. "It's a real shame that he couldn't be here with us, but Popovych did an incredible job. We kept exactly the same riding order as last year, with 'Popo' a straight swap for Eki and Savoldelli replacing Floyd [Landis]. Eki is perfection when it comes to team time trials, and I think 'Popo' rode with Eki's spirit today. That kid's a real gamer."
Popovych's efforts earned him the right to wear the white jersey as leader of the under-25 classification tomorrow. Asked tonight whether he also intended to protect Armstrong's lead in the coming days, Bruyneel smiled enigmatically and would say only that "we will discuss that tonight". Armstrong was more forthcoming, suggesting that, with Discovery Channel now occupying four of the top six places on GC courtesy of Hincapie, Jos Luis Rubiera and Popovych, the yellow jersey might leave his shoulders but not his team's custody over the coming days. He also hinted that Discovery might receive some unwitting help for their cause from Tom Boonen's Quick-Step team-mates.
"Sometimes in the Tour you have a rider who is a lot faster than the rest, and it looks that way with Boonen this year," Armstrong commented. "We all know how ambitious Tom Boonen is and, looking at him, I think he wants to win six or seven stages at this race. Consequently, his team will be looking to keep the race under control.
"When I abandoned Paris-Nice in March, I had serious doubts about [my prospects of wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour]," Armstrong then revealed. "But then I always have doubts, always feel insecure - I think it's very healthy for a top athlete. Paris-Nice wasn't a pleasant experience but then neither was the Tour of Georgia, nor the Dauphin Libr. The only way to react after those races was to ask myself how much I really wanted it.
"You always prefer to win by a sizeable margin, but I knew that it would be impossible today on a flat, straight course on a perfect road surface," Armstrong added. "[.] It feels good to be back in yellow and it feels good to give Discovery Channel their first yellow jersey - it's a nice reward for them committing to the team for three years."
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