In its bid to win a second consecutive Tour de France, the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team announced that its core group of six American riders – led by 1999 Tour champion Lance Armstrong and recent Dauphine Libere winner Tyler Hamilton – will be joined by three experienced Europeans at the start line of this year’s Tour in the Futuroscope theme park on July 1.
Armstrong and Hamilton will be joined by Americans Frankie Andreu, George Hincapie, Kevin Livingston and Christian Vande Velde, along with Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg and Frenchman Cedric Vasseur.
Last year, the U.S. Postal Service team, competing in just its third Tour de France, became the first American based cycling team to win cycling’s premier event.
“We are extremely proud of the fact that for the fourth straight year, the U.S. Postal Service team will be participating in the Tour and this year will be seeking an unprecedented repeat victory by an American team,” said Mark Gorski, the team’s general manager. “Our entire organization has worked extremely hard over the years to ensure that an American team would remain at the forefront of the sport. The support of our sponsors has been tremendous and we hope to reward them with another victory in Paris on July 23.”
Regarding the composition of the team for the Tour de France, U.S. Postal Service team director sportif Johan Bruyneel said that the experience of defending the yellow jersey last year played a big part in the selection of the riders for this year’s race.
“The choice of the team was based on the experience of last year,” Bruyneel said. “I selected the riders for this year based on who had the experience of defending the leader’s jersey last year. That was a big factor, plus the experience of Ekimov and Vasseur and the solid fitness of Joachim. It’s no use going to the Tour de France with one leader and eight climbers. I learned that from last year – you need people for the high mountains, middle mountains and flats. You need a well balanced team.”
Regarding Armstrong, Bruyneel said, “Physically, he is at least as good as last year and mentally he is stronger than last year. We started out last year with big motivation but only with a dream of winning it without any evidence. Now, he has shown it is possible and that makes a difference in the approach to the Tour.”
Armstrong has shown flashes of his form the past few weeks at event such as the Dauphine, where he won the time trial, finished third and played a key role in Hamilton’s victory, and the Classique des Alpes. Hamilton’s steady climb was punctuated with his performance at the Dauphine, as he won back to back stages including the climb up Mount Ventoux. At last year’s Tour, Hamilton placed 13th overall.
“For me, it was not a real surprise that Tyler won the Dauphine,” Bruyneel said. “That was an objective before the start of the race. He has improved a lot in the climbs. Last year, he did a couple of good mountain stages but there was some inconsistency. This year, he made big improvements in May in training and at the Dauphine. He knows we will again count on him to assist Lance in the mountains and he now has evidence he can do it.”
Despite suffering a broken collarbone at the Tour of the Basque Country in early April, Livingston found his form at the Classique des Alpes and Dauphine and should be ready for the task of protecting the team leader in the high mountains. Hincapie, fifth at the U.S. Pro Championship and sixth at Paris-Roubaix, and Andreu, preparing to start his ninth consecutive Tour de France, are both well rested following a busy spring campaign. Vande Velde, a third year professional who played a vital role in last year’s Tour, has recovered quickly from a broken collarbone suffered in late May.
“Kevin is not 100% fit yet but he is going to be fit for the Tour and that will be an advantage because he is fresh,” Bruyneel said. “The same goes for Christian, who will be even fresher. He will probably have some difficulty in the beginning, but he can improve in the last part of the race.”
The three newcomers are led by Vasseur, who wore the yellow jersey for several stages in the 1997 Tour de France; Ekimov, a former Tour stage winner and a member of the 1997 and 1998 U.S. Postal Service Tour teams; and Joachim, a second year pro with a long history of success who recently finished second overall at the Tour of Luxembourg, will add strength and experience.
“Eki and Cedric are solid professionals,” Bruyneel added. “We know what they have, they know their bodies and know the races and what to do. The same goes for Frankie and George. They have gone through several Tours and also the experience of last year. And Benoit is in peak form right now. He showed that in the Tour of Luxembourg and he is currently climbing very well.”
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE PRO CYCLING TEAM
2000 TOUR DE FRANCE ROSTER
Frankie Andreu (USA), 33, Dearborn, MI
Lance Armstrong (USA), 28, Austin, TX
Viatcheslav Ekimov (RUS), 34, Tortosa, ESP
Tyler Hamilton (USA), 29, Marblehead, MA
George Hincapie (USA), 27, Greenville, SC
Benoit Joachim (LUX), 24, Foetz, LUX
Kevin Livingston (USA), 27, Austin, TX
Christian Vande Velde (USA), 24, Boulder, CO
Cedric Vasseur (FRA), 29, Lambersart, FRA