The Tour hasn’t even started yet and already Manolo Saiz is having a dig at Lance Armstrong.
The ever-outspoken Manolo Saiz has kicked off the debate about the significance of the Tour de France’s place in the sport by declaring he would rather not see Lance Armstrong win an unprecedented sixth yellow jersey, writes Justin Davis. Liberty team manager Saiz admits that US Postal’s 32-year-old team leader has an 80 per cent chance of winning a sixth straight yellow jersey – although he hopes that former US Postie Roberto Heras, now Liberty’s team leader, can do some damage to the Texan’s bid. But even if Armstrong does succeed, the unforgiving Saiz feels that the achievement would still not rate with those of former five-time winners. Saiz, it seems, berates the fact that the Armstrong who is now worth millions thanks in large part to the race has, he claims, contributed little in return. “As usual, he will pack a season’s worth of racing into 23 days,” said Saiz. Saiz, who grew up in the Eddy Merckx era but says he preferred the Belgian legend’s big rival, Spaniard Luis Ocana, has been involved in cycling for years, enjoying huge successes with the ONCE team in the 1990s despite never seeing any of his riders win the Tour. So when it comes to giving his opinion on the Tour’s all-time best – from among five-time winners Jacques Anquetil to Spanish great Miguel Indurain, Saiz says there is no comparison with them and Armstrong. He told La Derniere Heure newspaper: “Listen, I’ve got heaps of respect for Armstrong on a professional level. He’s an authentic champion, and a great one at that. But he’s always had a selfish approach to cycling. He’s taken a lot from the sport, but he hasn’t given much back in return,” added Saiz, using the voracious Merckx, known as the “Cannibal” for his hunger for victories, as an example. “Merckx gave everything he had to the sport. The whole season. That’s what separates the European idea of cycling from the American idea. It’s not a judgement, just an opinion. But for all those reasons that’s why I hope he doesn’t become the first rider to win the Tour six times.” Saiz, who sees Jan Ullrich as the main threat to Armstrong, with Spanish climber Iban Mayo also in the mix, is hoping that Heras can move out of Armstrong’s shadow and throw his hat into the ring. “Until now Roberto has rode the Tour as a team-mate to Armstrong. He favoured the financial aspect of his career over the sporting aspect, which is his right. But now he’s going to have to prove he’s worthy of being the team leader, that he can attack and take the race by the scruff of the neck.”