The Week That Was...
Just the day before the Tour de Georgia began, Lance Armstrong sat next to his Director, Johan Bruyneel, and announced the news that many had suspected he would retire immediately after making an attempt at a seventh consecutive Tour de France this July. Cleary emotional, Armstrong said that his decision was final and that there would be no about-turn should things not work out in July.
Winner of five Tour de France?s and good friend of Armstrong, Eddy Merckx said to Het Nieuwsblad that, "To stop or go on: that is a decision that you have to take yourself. I can't judge it. I can, however, assume that mentally it will become harder for Lance to live with everything that has happened on the fringe of the sport. Physically, I don't see a problem. Someone who is so strong after coming back from cancer, that is no normal guy but a great champion. Look at all that he has experienced! Of course He could have aimed for the classics next year. Ultimately, that's also a big part of cycling eh! I understand very well that the pressure from the media and the public is heavy. Besides, it's generally the case that a top rider first breaks down mentally rather than physically. Thus, all understanding, all respect."
Tour Director, Jean-Marie Leblanc also added in an interview with ANP that, "We saw this decision coming. He will come to France to try to win the Tour for the seventh time. But I'm not ruling out that his mental tiredness will influence his effectiveness. That's not a wish, not a prediction, but a personal analysis. We should respect his choice. We know his life. He always has to come to Europe while his children are in the USA. This decision is no surprise to me."
One rider going head-to-head with Armstrong in this year's Tour is Italian, Ivan Basso. In an interview recently with the Spanish paper AS, he explained why he is attempting a Giro-Tour double. "I believe that is possible to do the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in a same season," Basso said. "Due to this decision, I have reduced the emphasis on other races. I will come to the Giro with the objective to do it well and to try to win it. An Italian cannot go to his race without ambition."
Like German Jan Ullrich, Basso too would like to climb on to the top step of the podium in Paris, in a race in which Armstrong participated. "It would be better to win the Tour with Armstrong present, I would like that a lot, but right now it is not the biggest problem for me. The question is how to win it, with or without Lance."
It was last week announced that the on-going dispute between the Giro d?Italia organisation and AIGCP (Associazione Internazionale Gruppi Sportivi Professionistici/International Association of Professional Cycling teams) has been finally resolved. The initial dispute was over the appearance money paid to the twenty Pro Tour teams, with the first agreement calling for ?60,000 per team. The AIGCP have now confirmed that all ProTour teams will be starting the race, however, the final figure agreed upon by the two parties was not released.
Next year, Belgium will host the opening stages of the Giro d?Italia, starting with a prologue time trial in the town of Seraing on 6th May. The following two stages will both be held within Belgium while the third road stage will see the race begin heading south with a finish likely to be held in either France, Germany or Luxembourg.
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