Media's money is on Lance
He may be under attack from some, but when it comes to betting the press are firmly behind Armstrong
The Tour press pack appears to nourish few doubts that Lance Armstrong is about to set off on a sixth victorious Tour de France campaign. Even the Germans.. The form book, the hands of time, and history may all be against Lance Armstrong, but a quick survey of the Tour de France press corps reveals that the hacks are ready for another year writing about an LA victory. Last night, in between deflecting questions about the allegations made by David Walsh and Pierre Ballester in “LA Confidential,” Armstrong found time to thank “the many journalists who had sent [him] messages of support” since the book’s release two weeks ago. Perhaps they, in turn, felt obliged to sponsor Armstrong’s bid for a sixth yellow jersey when sounded out by procycling on Friday. The first to stake his money on Armstrong was countryman and Dallas Morning News correspondent Andrew Hood: “I can’t see Lance losing, but, if he does, it’ll be to Iban Mayo or Tyler Hamilton. I think that Lance has Ullrich’s number; he won’t be able to follow in the mountains. If anyone can explode the race it’ll be Mayo. but logic says Lance.” Armstrong’s home town newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, doesn’t have a cycling correspondent on the Tour so much as an Armstrong correspondent. The proud occupant of that position is Susanne Halliburton, who informs us that today’s Statesman carried a Tour special of no fewer than ten pages. Asked for her Tour tip, Halliburton is standing by her man: “I spoke to Lance last week and he told me that, on reflection, he wasn’t motivated enough in 2002 and 2003. The book is a big chip on his shoulder and it’ll make him twice as motivated. Mayo could come closest.” “Last year was a wake-up call for Lance, as was the book,” echoes Manon Colson of Dutch paper Sportsweek. “He had won four Tours by over six minutes, and winning by such a narrow margin last year will have shocked him into action. And then there’s the book: an angry Armstrong is twice as bad.” Jean Jacques Rosselet of Swiss news agency Sport Information believes that Armstrong needs no further incentives: “He has more experience of winning than anyone else, and is better prepared. Last year he looked defeat in eyes. Only Hamilton could beat him.” “Ullrich doesn’t have the mental wherewithal to beat Lance,” says Justin Davis of French agency AFP. “Of course, Lance could have an accident, but on a level playing field he’s too strong.” The consensus, it seems, knows no boundaries, not even the ones which fence in 80-odd million of Ullrich’s kinfolk east of the Rhein. Asked whether Jan can get it right this time, Carola Wittkowski of Die Welt answers “Nein!”. “Lance is very, very angry about the book,” she says. “Consequently he’s doubly dangerous. The dispute between Walter Godefroot and Rudy Pevenage might prove Ullrich’s undoing. The main T-Mobile directeur sportif, Mario Kummer, is effectively there as an intermediary between Godefroot, Pevenage and Ullrich.” Former Tour de France stage winner Charly Mottet, at the Tour for the Dauphin Libr, agrees: “I say Armstrong, Ullrich then Mayo, in that order. Armstrong’s team will be better in the team time trial, and the book will push him higher, stronger, faster.” A lone, dissenting voice comes from Luigi Perna of Italian sports daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport. He gives Ullrich a “sixty per cent chance, Armstrong forty per cent.” “Armstrong has never looked as vulnerable as he did last year,” he explains. “It seems that Ullrich has finally realised that this could be his last chance and he has prepared better than ever. Heras and Mayo may contribute to Lance’s downfall, but only Ullrich can beat him.” And so – you’re all thinking – what does procycling think? Wouldn’t you all like to know.