Lance: The team were superb

After one slightly dodgy day, Big Tex was delighted to see his team-mates riding strongly today, and

After one slightly dodgy day, Big Tex was delighted to see his team-mates riding strongly today, and


After looking slightly suspect in the Vosges at the weekend, Lance Armstrong was full of praise for his Discovery Channel team this evening. "The team were superb today," said the defending champion. "We're in a good position with regard to some of my main rivals, so we will have to protect that and that might mean protecting the jersey, which would hopefully mean retiring in it. But we'll see - there's still a lot of racing to go. We'll try to race smart, because the team can only do so much in a Tour like this."

He admitted he had done all he could to encourage the other members of the four-man break to ride at the front. "I used all the BS I could to get them to ride. Anybody in the front on this climb today has to be considered a contender for overall victory or for the podium," said Armstrong. "It's in their interest to put as much time into Jan Ullrich as possible, because he's going to catch them in the Pyrenees and he's going to catch them in the time trial."

He also acknowledged he would be watching Michael Rasmussen, now second overall very closely. "Did Rasmussen surprise me? That performance the other
Day" - (on the stage to Mulhouse) - "I think we were all surprised by that. It's one thing if you ride away from two guys who aren't that strong, but if you have a two-man team time trial with Voigt and Moreau behind you, and you put time into them on a headwind section of flat roads. That's impressive and today he was impressive," said Armstrong. "One thing's for sure, no more seven-minute breakaways for Michael Rasmussen. He's a damn good climber and we have to watch him now."

And what did the race leader think of T-Mobile's efforts today? "I don't think they're finished and I think, like us three or four days ago, they had a bad day. I'm going to be the last person to write them off, I think they're in the race to stay. They may have lost some time today but they're not going away and they're going to make life difficult. We have to continue to watch and respect them. We saw today how a classy and professional team can come back from a bad day and they're going to do the same thing. I can't say anything negative about them."

As for Alejandro Valverde, Armstrong admitted he was impressed. "When I heard the names that were getting dropped and made one acceleration and turned around and he was there and Mancebo was there, I was surprised to see him. He's a difficult rider to classify because he's also very fast and very strong. A guy like him - and I am not blowing smoke - could be the future of cycling. He's an intelligent, smart and patient rider. He's surrounded by good people and he's always been good. Sometimes you have these flashes but he was good from the first day he showed up. The only thing he would have to work on is his time trial, but I guess he'll do that."

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