Will Lance Armstrong keep his unprecedented Tour run going or opt for some different challenges next
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Comments that Lance Armstrong may not be in France next July defending his Tour de France title have stirred up far more debate in the press than the route of the 2005 race, at the launch of which the comments were made by US Postal team manager Johan Bruyneel. The Belgian said that at the moment the chances of Armstrong going for a seventh straight Tour title are only “50-50”, and have led to today’s L’Equipe asking five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault what he thinks the Texan might do. “It’s true that if he comes to the Tour and doesn’t win, then that won’t look good,” says Hinault. “I think that he ought to have been able to play two cards: ride his own race and, if that does not go well, try to help one of his team-mates win. At the end of the last Tour I think that he should have recruited someone like Basso, Valverde or Cunego. But he’s not done so and so now he’s on his own. “He might also give the Tour a miss in order to try to complete his palmars by winning other races,” Hinault continues, “but I can’t imagine him spending a season just focusing on the Classics. I don’t think he would be happy with that. But what is to stop him from making a decision at the last moment? He is not obliged to tell anyone if he is doing his reconnaissance of the mountain stages. He doesn’t have to show his hand at all.” For Hinault, Armstrong’s participation simply comes down to a question of motivation. “He can win a seventh Tour, even if young riders might might make it hard. If Cunego or Valverde are at the Tour they might open things up, there could be more attacks. Because the other riders, even Ullrich, have shown their limits. But even his age should not be a problem.” Christian Prudhomme, assistant director of the Tour and the man who will take over from current boss Jean-Marie Leblanc after the next edition, was also asked for his opinion, and suggested that after six wins in a row Armstrong is the only rider who can afford to miss next year’s race. “I would not be surprised if he wanted to do another major tour in order to come back in 2006 and complete the circle. But if he was to win a Giro or Vuelta and then come back to win the Tour again his record would be beyond reproach. Of course he has said that only the Tour motivates him, but now he has won six of them,” said Prudhomme.