Lance Armstrong spoke at length to Le Figaro on Saturday.
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LE FIGARO. – Does the Tour of France 2003 already worry Lance Armstrong?
Lance ARMSTRONG – To say “worry” that would be an exaggeration. But, at the start of each New Year I am immersed in the affairs of the Tour. Then if it does not worry me, yes I do start to think about what will happen in July. And the as the start of the Tour gets nearer, the excitement starts to build. The Tour means everything to me as a racing cyclist. I believe that as time passes I like the Tour more and more.
LE FIGARO. - The Tour and France?
Lance ARMSTRONG - (smiles.) Yes France too. I am familiar with certain parts as I have ridden the Tour for several years, I have had the opportunity to play the tourist. I have discovered many things. The scenery of course, the different foods and specialities in various areas too. Over the period of my travels, I have become familiar with certain hotels. Ask me about a tapenade, for example ("Classic Provence dish using black, preferably Kalamata, olives. This dip is great with pita bread triangles." - Ed.) or the bread with olives that is especially made for me at the hotel Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux dans la Drôme. The pleasures of the life!
LE FIGARO. - So you take life "day by day"?
Lance ARMSTRONG That is my way of seeing things. I adopt the formula «Carpe diem», not only because Robin Williams, the professor in “The Dead Poet's Society," is a friend. Now he really loves France!
LE FIGARO. You find Robin Williams funny?
Lance ARMSTRONG (Astonished.) Because you think that I do not have a sense of humour? You don’t know me! I adore to joke and laugh. People who say: "Armstrong is cold, distant, and never laughs" really do not know me. I am the opposite of this image. When I am in the intimacy of my family, my friends, my team. But it is said that each one has its double. Within the framework of my job, I am different. Although I think I have got closer to the public in the last few years. I believe that the Tour fans understand. I sense that they are closer to me. Even if, as last yeah, there were some negative responses on the Ventoux climb. They did nothing but motivate me even more.
LE FIGARO.The motivation of Armstrong seems to be second nature. Is it still as strong after four victories in the Tour?
Lance ARMSTRONG Always, always! I have not lost my will to keep winning. My passion for cycle racing is always intact. I was born for cycling. It is my vocation.
LE FIGARO.It is rare but today (note: Saturday), you did not go out for a ride.
Lance ARMSTRONG - It is very rare. Throughout an entire year there are probably only about 20 days that I do not go out on my bike. Two consecutive days without riding does not happen. In any case, I always alter my time out on the bike. Between two and four hours. If the Tour is not won now, it can be lost...
LE FIGARO. - Who watches you?
Lance ARMSTRONG - Nobody. I speak for myself. I know the importance of training.
LE FIGARO.- Do you sill work with Doctor Ferrari?
Lance ARMSTRONG - Yes. I am not ashamed of it, quite the contrary. In fact, I work more directly with Chris Carmichael but I never ceased having contact with Michele Ferrari. I know that he has an offensive reputation and he is currently involved in a lawsuit with Italian Authorities. There has never been the slightest ambiguity between us. I have never suspected him of anything, and until I have proof to the contrary I will continue to be fully confident in him. What counts for me is not the bla-bla but facts, nothing but facts
LE FIGARO.When French judiciary withdrew its case regarding actovégin, in the Tour 2000 (1) were you relieved?
Lance ARMSTRONG In the team, nobody had done anything wrong. For me, it is old history.
LE FIGARO.Does this topic bring us back to doping with the death of the Italian runner Denis Zanette (32 years) and the statements of the owner of the team Amore E Vita, Ivano Fanini, which said that many riders are in danger of death? (
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Lance ARMSTRONG - (wrinkles his face.) I did not read his statement, but what can anyone say about such a thing? My initial thoughts are for his family and their sorrow and pain. Is this the right time to bring this up? It is a lack of decency which shocks me. To die so young is a tragedy.
LE FIGARO.Do you follow the cycling news, in Austin, during the winter?
Lance ARMSTRONG Of course. Through the newspapers, but especially on Internet because we are so far from Europe. But I am in permanent contact with Johan (Johan Bruyneel - US Postal DS)
LE FIGARO. - The Jan Ulrich affair for example?
Lance ARMSTRONG - Ah, Ulrich! He will sign with Team Coast, I believe. It is his problem but I do not think he has gone about it in the best way to restart his career. For sure, isn't he going to make good money? It is not an attitude of champion. But that will not prevent Pevenage, his trainer, to continue to say that all is well. It is disappointing.He should have gone with Riis for zero francs. He would have made him face up to his responsibilities . I would have signed a years contract for zero francs!
LE FIGARO. - Another story: the Pantani and Cippolini affair?
Lance ARMSTRONG (bursts out laughing.) That’s an Italian story!
LE FIGARO. - Which brings us to the concept of the team. The US Postal, last year, had a perfect Tour .Commentators spoke about the “Rocket Armstrong” and the “Blue Train”: which expression do you prefer? (NB The “fusée Armstrong” and the “Train bleu” are common nicknames used by French reporters.)
Lance ARMSTRONG - I like the blue Train. Firstly, because we do not go into the air but ride on the ground. And then the blue Train, that conveys well the image of the fusion between us. That is most important. All my team was brilliant last July. Even if one always speaks about Armstrong, each one of my team-members had his share in my yellow jersey in Paris. It is a privilege to be surrounded by such people. With men who know their job perfectly.
LE FIGARO. - Did Johan Bruyneel, build a team expressly for you?
Lance ARMSTRONG For the Tour, yes, it is clear, there is one boss in that race (laughs). In other races, other riders have the chance to express their talent. Sometimes it is my turn to help out.
LE FIGARO. - 2003, the 100th Tour: and a 5th victory would equal the records of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault et Indurain. What do you think of the history of the Tour?
Lance ARMSTRONG "The history of the Tour is a huge, fantastic, epic story. I'm just one of the actors on the stage of TDF history, but, since I'm an American and my country has no cycling culture, I didn't grow up on the Tour De France. I have been able to learn that history from looking at the photos and history of the 100 years of the Tour, for many Europeans, the Tour will be special and have a lot of memories But there's something abstract in all this, so for me the race will not be different from the previous years. For sure, at the start in Paris there be a lot of emotion, with a lot memories of the past. But once the Tour starts, it will, as always, be about the race and the winner.
LE FIGARO.- Among all these winners, who are you closest to?
Lance ARMSTRONG - Eddy Merckx. Not only is he a great friend, but he was also the greatest ever Champion. We have a lot in common. Especially the same will to win….
LE FIGARO.- And you imagine winning a fifth and then a sixth tour and becoming the record holder?
Lance ARMSTRONG - When you dream, you can imagine anything. But who can say what my motivation will be in 2004, or my physical condition? No one can escape the passage of time, you would be a fool to think differently
LE FIGARO.- 2004, it is a Olympic year also?
Lance ARMSTRONG - For me, I repeat that the only thing that counts is the Tour. Every thing else comes after that and can only be a bonus. I am not thinking of the Olympics.
LE FIGARO.- Will you take part this years World Championships in Canada?
Lance ARMSTRONG - It is not in my programme at the moment.
LE FIGARO.- What did it mean to win the "Sportsman of the Year" voted by the readers of the famous American magazine Sports Illustrated?
Lance ARMSTRONG - I was both surprised and very proud of this nomination. But it is not just down to me winning the Tour four times. In the United States, people know my story and it is more my battle against cancer than my sporting victories. For them, I am a champion who returned from the dead. Inspite of my victories, it is something that I do not forget either...