Tour Teams: US Postal Line-Up
– Reported by Dan Osipow For Tailwind Sports –
Bruyneel says U.S. Postal Service Tour team is strongest group of last four years
Following back-to-back victories in two of the most significant lead-in races to the Tour de France, Tailwind Sports today announced the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s nine-rider roster that will defend Lance Armstrong’s three consecutive Tour de France victories at next month’s 89th edition of cycling’s top event.
Joining Armstrong at the start line of the Tour de France in Luxembourg on July 6 will be fellow Americans George Hincapie and Floyd Landis, Spain’s Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera, Colombia’s Victor Hugo Pena, Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia, Czech Pavel Padrnos and Luxembourg’s Benoit Joachim.
“I’m proud for our organization and sponsors that the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team will be starting its sixth consecutive Tour de France,” said Mark Gorski, CEO of Tailwind Sports. “The team will be completely focused on defending Lance’s three victories with our best team ever.”
“It was a tough decision to select the nine riders because we have 12 riders that are ready to ride the Tour,” said Johan Bruyneel, the USPS team’s director sportif. “However, this is without any doubt the strongest team we’ve put together over the
last four years. Everybody is in good shape, well prepared and extremely motivated.”
Armstrong, coming off his second victory of the year eight days ago at the prestigious Dauphine Libere, agreed with Bruyneel.
“I have never been so excited about the team prior to the Tour and I’ve never seen such results in June,” said Armstrong. “It was a great month for the team. The team’s well-rounded, motivated, and experienced.”
Following Armstrong’s impressive victory at the Dauphine, Heras, the winner of the 2000 Tour of Spain and a key teammate at the Tour, won Spain’s Tour of Catalunya yesterday in Barcelona. Both the Dauphine Libere and the Tour of Catalunya are top stage races considered just a notch below the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain.
“I’m really confident in this team,” said Bruyneel. “I’ve tried to select the type of riders that we will need over the three weeks, which will be a balance between flat stages, a team time trial, middle mountain stages and high mountain stages. This, together with the experience of each one, has been the main factors in the composition of the team.”
Bruyneel added that because the USPS team is so deep in talent, several riders who have contributed to the team’s recent success may indeed be in better shape than they were at this point last year, but still were not selected for the Tour team.
As for the nine riders selected, Bruyneel obviously points to Armstrong as the team leader. “My impression is that Lance is in the same physical condition as last year,” said Bruyneel, “but that the rest of the team is better than in the past. Roberto is back on the level that we had expected him to reach. Chechu (Rubiera) will be as solid as always; we know that we can always count on him. Floyd just finished an impressive second in the Dauphine and I have a feeling that we have not seen the best of him yet.
“George, Pavel and Eki will be the motors of the team,” continued Bruyneel. “They are strong all around riders and they all have great experience. Benoit will be the most motivated rider of the whole peloton at the start in Luxembourg. And Victor is back, as he was very strong in the Dauphine.”
Despite his extreme confidence in the USPS team, Bruyneel is also wary of the rest of the competition.
“While we are pleased with where we are as a team, we will not forget that other teams and riders have prepared for this race very well, too,” said Bruyneel. Emphasizing the magnitude of this race in the sport, Bruyneel added, “The Tour de France is the hardest bike race in the world and we approach it with one thing always present in the back of our minds: Le Tour c’est Le Tour (The Tour is the Tour).”