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When Lance Armstrong begins the final race of his illustrious career on July 2, the six-time Tour winner's Discovery Channel team will include most of the squad that assisted him to his record-breaking sixth win last summer, with just two newcomers to the team. Those two riders and two-time Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli and May's winner of the Tour of Catalonia Yaroslav Popovych, and neither is green behind the ears.
As well as these two, Armstrong will be joined by American George Hincapie, Spain's Jos Luis Rubiera, Manuel Beltran and Benjamin Noval, Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic and Portugal's Jos Azevedo.
"I think we have fielded our strongest team ever with this formation," said Armstrong. "It has many consistent elements from years past, like the Spanish armada for the climbs, strong guys like George, Pavel and Benjamin, the Giro winner in Savoldelli, plus a guy like Popo (Popovych) with a very bright future. I look forward to leading this team and attempting to give the great folks at Discovery a yellow jersey. I'm more motivated than ever."
Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel, who has directed Armstrong to all six of his Tour victories, was equally upbeat. "I wanted an experienced team for Lance's last Tour, that was the determining factor," said Bruyneel. "I want him to be surrounded by guys who have always been around him. It's a team with just two new riders, with the rest returning from last year. All are ready or are getting ready."
Bruyneel added: "It wasn't difficult to choose. The group that rode at the Dauphin Libr (Azevedo, Beltran, Hincapie, Noval, Popovych and Rubiera) showed me they are at a good level, while Paolo and Pavel did a great job in the Giro. Paolo was never in doubt, especially when he won the Giro, and is such a great rider. Pavel did a very good job in the Giro riding for Paolo and is very strong. For me, it was an easy selection.
"When making the selection, it's a matter of finding a balanced team," continued Bruyneel. "I think we have guys for everywhere - the flats, those who will work in the hard stages and guys for the mountains. On paper, it's a super team. But, of course, we are missing Eki (Viatcheslav Ekimov) - he would definitely be on the team if he was healthy."
Ekimov, who has 14 Tour finishes to his credit, severely injured his back in a training crash in late April, but is hoping to race again before the end of the season.
"I will miss Eki dearly this time around but I plan on riding the race with all the toughness he has shown over the years," said Armstrong of the Russian.
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