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By Agence France Presse
After a week in the saddle, and four days in the yellow jersey, Lance Armstrong says the Tour de France is only now getting set to start.
After wrapping up stage 7 in Karlsruhe, Germany, won by Robbie McEwen (Davitamon), the six-time Tour champion said he feels none of the pressure he did last year when he was bidding to secure a record-breaking sixth victory.
“In terms of pressure it’s nothing compared to last year, so I’m a little relieved I don’t have the pressure of winning the sixth Tour that people said couldn’t be done,” said Armstrong. “It feels different this year. The race is just about to start.”
Armstrong has spent a mostly calm week as sprinters’ teams like Tom Boonen’s Quick Step and McEwen’s Davitamon worked together to chase down breakaways before fighting it out for the stage at the end.
The arrangement has suited Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team, which as a result has not been obliged to lend a hand at the front of the peloton in defense of the yellow jersey.
“There’s two or other three teams interested in keeping the group together so we’ve been riding at a medium tempo,” he said. “We might be defending but we’re getting a lot of help.”
And while his prime rivals – T-Mobile’s Jan Ullrich and Alex Vinokourov – are more than a minute back, Armstrong is keeping an eye on them . . . especially Vinokourov.
“Vino is always aggressive. He’s always ready to attack,” said Armstrong, who has a lead of 1:02 over the Kazakh rider in the general classification. “He’s a great rider, and he’s especially motivated for this Tour.”
If any early attacks are to come from Vinokourov or Ullrich in the coming days before the race heads into the Alps on Tuesday, Sunday’s 171km ninth stage from Gerardmer to Mulhouse could be the one.
But Armstrong said he will be ready.
“I have to confess I don’t know these stages,” said Armstrong, known for his meticulous approach to reviewing key stages of the race.
“But I feel certain that my form is good enough to follow some attacks. In fact some attacks would be nice, so we don’t have to finish in a field sprint again.”