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Armstrong confident in team

Posted: Thursday, July 03, 2003

PARIS Lance Armstrong is working on the principle that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Armstrong is sticking with the teammates that last year helped him move within one victory of a record-tying fifth straight Tour de France title.

The only change to the U.S. Postal Service's lineup announced this week is Manuel Beltran, a Spaniard expected to assist Armstrong in the leg-crushing seven mountain stages. Beltran replaces Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg.

Armstrong was traveling to Paris from Spain on Wednesday for the race, which starts Saturday.

He's ''very strong ... confident,'' Jogi Muller, a spokesman for the Postal Service team, said of the 31-year-old Texan's pre-race mental state.

The Tour, a grueling 23-day, 2,125-mile clockwise slog around France, is the ultimate test of individual endurance, but few can win it without a good team.

In his biography, ''It's Not About the Bike,'' Armstrong explains how teammates are crucial to his success. On windy days or up steep climbs, they stay in front, shielding and sucking him along in their drafts.

They chase down riders who try to surge off ahead and protect the team leader from the jostling that goes on in the ''peloton,'' the pack.

''Every team needs guys who are sprinters, guys who are climbers, guys willing to do the dirty work,'' Armstrong writes. ''You don't win a road race all on your own.''

If he wins, Armstrong will join Spanish legend Miguel Indurain as only the second rider to capture five consecutive Tours. Indurain won in 1991-95. Three other racers have won five Tours, but not consecutively.

Two Postal Service team members George Hincapie and Floyd Landis overcame injuries and illness to make this Tour's roster.

Landis, 27, from San Diego, broke a hip falling during a training ride in January near his southern California home. Hincapie, a South Carolinian who turned 30 last Sunday, missed many of the early season races with a severe respiratory infection.

In a statement announcing the roster, Postal Service sporting director Johan Bruyneel said: ''I'm confident that this year's team is our strongest possible lineup.''

He added that Armstrong, who won the warmup Dauphine Libere race in June, is ''at least as strong as last year.''

Beltran, the 32-year-old climber who came from Team Coast this year, joins two other Spaniards, Jose Luis Rubiera and Roberto Heras.

Heras told the French newspaper L'Equipe that while he hopes to win one of the Tour's 20 stages, his priority is to help Armstrong to overall victory.

''If Lance is at 100 percent, he can only win,'' Heras said in an interview published Wednesday on L'Equipe's Web site.

The other members of the ''Blue Train,'' the nickname given to the Postal Service team because of their blue uniforms and single determination, are Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia, Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic and Colombian rider Victor Hugo Pena.

They ''have the experience and proved at the Dauphine that they are ready for the job,'' Bruyneel said.



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