1999 Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong arrived at the US Postal Service Team’s press conference at Futuroscope today defending more than just his yellow jersey.
Relaxed and in control when answering cycling related questions, he visibly tensed, rolling his shoulders like a boxer, when asked to comment on recent reports in the French daily sports paper L’Equipe that he now demanded money for interviews. He instantly replied:
“It’s ridiculous and absurd. My interviews with the press are, and always will be, free. No one charges for interviews. On the other hand it is normal to accept an appearance fee when it is either a sponsor or team-related situation.”
He was equally tetchy when asked if he had anything to say to his detractors. This was in reference to a recent interview where he suggested that he hadn’t received the respect that he deserved from his rivals for last year’s victory:
“Why does a champion have detractors when he has proved from day one that he is class,” he stressed. “I am not new to cycling. I was World Champion in 1993. At some point this must stop.”
And then he spoke a single phrase in French, “ca suffit” (enough is enough) to emphasise his weariness of it all to the French press corps.
Regarding the race itself, he was more relaxed and said that he was a little less nervous than he was going into the 1999 Tour.
“I am confident in my physical condition and that of the team,” he declared.
In a rare lapse in eloquence, Armstrong then made a Freudian slip when he said that he was returning to the Tour this year hopefully with more “animosity…er…anonymity,” than last year.
When asked whether his motivation had been altered by the events following his 1999 win he replied:
“I love what I do, believe it or not. I’m not in it for the money or the notoriety. My motivation hasn’t been affected. Above all I want to prove again that after cancer I can come back and win again.”
Finally he named Alex Zulle as his personal favourite for overall success:
“Zulle is in good form and has a strong team in Banesto, especially for the mountains.”
At the end he was presented with a cheque from Futuroscope for his cancer foundation and that was it. He was off. He hadn’t revealed much except a certain feeling that Lance Armstrong is even more determined (if that’s possible for a champion who is so mentally strong and focused anyway) to hold on to his crown this year, come hell or high water.