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By Andrew Hood
Spanish cycling legend Miguel Indurain said Lance Armstrong has what it takes to win the record sixth Tour de France.
Armstrong matched Indurain’s mark of five consecutive Tours in last year’s hard fought battle, but Indurain told the Spanish daily MARCA that Armstrong looks more motivated than ever.
“As we see him going now, and looking at his rivals, I see him with the capacity to win a sixth Tour,” Indurain said. “I see him with the same motivation as other years and his results so far this year indicate he took care of himself over the winter.”
Indurain, who has participated in two ‘Ride of the Roses’ events organized by The Lance Armstrong Foundation, spoke with Armstrong during the Tour of Murcia earlier this month in Spain.
“Physically, he looked good even though the last Tour there were a lot of problems,” Indurain said. “It’s obvious that the passing years don’t count in your favor, because you lose your explosiveness and this has always been his strength. But you gain experience at the same time and that’s important, too. Every year it’s harder to find the form and it takes longer to recover during the races. It’s essential to arrive in good form at the start.”
Indurain said he would be “the first to congratulate” Armstrong is he wins the elusive sixth Tour. If Armstrong wins the sixth, would it make him the best racer ever? Indurain was diplomatic.
“Armstrong would be the most consistent, having won the most Tours and the record would be his,” Indurain said. “But you cannot compare periods. The palmares of Eddy Merckx is better than anyone’s, including Bernard Hinault.”
Heras: ‘My time has come’
Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) says he’s putting everything into winning the Tour de France. The former U.S. Postal Service rider is making his season debut at Milan-San Remo and is chomping at the bit to reclaim his name after three years riding in the shadow of Lance Armstrong.
“My time has come,” Heras told the Spanish daily AS. “I’m giving everything for the Tour.”
Heras said he’s been riding an average of 1000km per week and spending five to six hours a week in the gym to strengthen his upper body.
“I work hard, like always, but this year with the mind set on winning the Tour. I didn’t leave the Tour to follow on the same path. I am very ambitious, I feel strong and with the team I have, I can aspire to fight on equal footing against Armstrong and Ullrich for the final victory,” he said.
“The Tour was already my goal for the 2005 season and by joining Liberty, I have moved it up by one year,” said the two-time Vuelta a España champion. “I see Armstrong has begun his season on a good rhythm and he looks good. Ullrich is not as strong, but we all know from other seasons that it’s not until May or June that we begin to see his true level.”
Armstrong wins Spanish award
Lance Armstrong joined some elite company this week when he was awarded the “MARCA Legend” award by the Spanish sports daily in Madrid.
Spain’s largest circulation sports newspaper awarded Armstrong the gold trophy and said, “This is for me?” when officials handed over the trophy. “It’s an honor for me to receive this prize.”
Other winners of the award include five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, basketballers Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, soccer players Diego Maradona and Pelé, skier Alberto Tomba and tennis player Pete Sampras.
More honors for Pantani
A bust of Marco Pantani will be placed at the top of the 2,416m Col di Fauniera, where the Italian made one of his earliest exploits in the 1994 Giro d’Italia. The black marble statue will be made by Roman sculptor Olaru Benone and will be unveiled during the upcoming Giro.
Ullrich, Heras at Setmana Catalana
Tour de France contenders Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) are among the headliners starting Setmana Catalana from March 22-26 in Spain.
Other big names taking the start in Lloret de Mar are Giro d’Italian fave Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) and Alejandro Valverde (CV-Kelme).
The opening stage is a circuit along the seaside resort at Lloret de Mar. Stage two runs north to Empuriabrava with a the Sant Pere de Rodes climb just a few kms from the finish. Stage three goes from Montcada to Reixac while stage four finishes in Port del Comte. The final stage runs from Solsona to Parets de Vallés. Moreau on the mend
Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) will make his season debut Friday at the Classic Loire Atlantique in France. The Frenchman hurt his knee during training in January and was forced to delay his start to the season. Track star doesn’t like innuendo
Three-time world champion Shane Kelly said Wednesday he was annoyed by a doping scandal involving an Australian rider and hoped it would be resolved before the world track championships in May.Some of the world’s top cyclists will be using the May 26-30 championships at Melbourne’s Vodafone Arena as a last chance to qualify for the Athens Olympics in August.
However, Kelly said he was irritated the sport had again been plunged into a doping scandal.
“It’s under investigation. I just hope it clears and doesn’t give cycling bad publicity we have steered away from over the past few years,” Kelly told reporters after the world championships launch on Wednesday.
An Australian cyclist was facing doping charges, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) announced last month.
The ASC released a short statement but declined to name the rider, although his identity was published in local media. A Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing is expected to be held in May.
“Hopefully that doesn’t flare up just before the worlds and the Olympics. Let’s hope it sorts itself out,” said Kelly, an Olympic silver medalist in 1992 and bronze medalist in 2000. “It is (disturbing), especially when the drug allegations are within Australia. Cycling itself is pushing so hard to get everything clean before the Olympics. So this coming up just six months prior is a little bit annoying.”