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Lance Armstrong woke up with the race lead in his grasp this morning and the rest of the peloton scratching their heads and wondering if anything can be done to derail the Texan from a seventh successive Tour de France win.
If possible, the aura of invincibility surrounding the American has been enhanced over the past few days - and these were only the flat stages. His iconic status has also been reinforced by an unlikely ally: the French media.
Running in L'Equipe newspaper, each day throughout the Tour, are a series of vignettes from those who have known the Tour champion throughout his career. Today's 'Armstrong Moment' is supplied by Cyrille Guimard, the legendary directeur sportif, who, after guiding the likes of Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond to Tour victory, is now a TV pundit.
Guimard, who was a short-lived directeur at the Cofidis team, recalls how Armstrong's determination first astounded him: "My first memory of Lance is in January 1997, a few months after we signed him to Cofidis. It was the first time since his treatment that he had come to France, at that time for a training camp in Lille. He was still undergoing chemotherapy, which shocked us all because he had no hair, or eyebrows and his head was scarred by his operations.
"But the most amazing thing was to see him get onto his bike the next morning, and ride 70 kilometres with the team in training. And it was cold, only two or
"A few weeks later I heard that he wanted to race again. We were in Spain and it was there that Kevin Livingston, one of his best friends, took me to one side and said: 'Listen Cyrille, I don't know what's going to happen with Lance, but it looks like the team are going to drop him...' This was the root of a first conflict with Francois Migraine, the boss of Cofidis.
"You know, when you see somebody suffering with cancer do that sort of thing, a training ride in weather hardly above zero, the first thing to do is to extend his contract immediately. You need to show some confidence in him..."
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