It’s a team highly reminiscent of the squads that took him to seven Tour de France wins, funded by an American sponsor lured into the sport by the draw of his star power — yet Lance Armstrong said Tuesday that his new RadioShack ProTour team isn’t built solely around him.
At an afternoon press conference held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Arizona, where the RadioShack team is holding its first training camp, Armstrong told the media that the days of his team being assembled entirely around his objectives “are done.”
“I’m 38, going to be 39 this racing season, so it would be irresponsible to build the team around me,” Armstrong said. “We have to go in with a team approach. And at the Tour we have to look at Levi, and we have to look at Kloden, we have to look at the entire team and the tactics and the ideas that we use.”
It was both a startling and candid admission by cycling’s biggest star, who for the better part of the past decade famously handpicked the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel team rosters that subsequently approached the Tour solely with Armstrong’s objectives in mind.
However after returning to racing in 2009 with an Astana team that also boasted Tour winner Alberto Contador — and finishing a respectable, yet distant, third behind Contador and Andy Schleck — Armstrong said that in 2010 he wouldn’t wholly shoulder the expectations of bringing the team Tour success.
“Those days are done. We have a good, well-rounded team for all kinds of races,” he said. “I think the spring classics will also be important to the team. What’s important is that the team starts hard in Australia (at the Santos Tour Down Under), and gets some early results.”
Flanked by team manager and longtime confidant Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong answered questions for 30 minutes on topics ranging from his relationship with Contador (“That was a personality conflict. That’s not to say that my attitude was good or bad, or his was good or bad, they were just different. I’m sure he’s glad I went left and he went right.”) to his stance on posting independently monitored blood values online (“All it takes is one guy who calls himself a doctor to say they are suspicious. To be attacked like that, it is just not worth it. Testing through the various international agencies is going to have to be enough.”) to his growing acceptance in France (“This year the French saw a guy who was three years older, who tried his best and got third, and was content with that.”)
However it was Armstrong’s acknowledgment that he would not carry sole leadership at Team RadioShack that was most revealing.
Of his outlook towards the 2010 season — one that will see him race the Tour Down Under, the Vuelta Murcia, Volta a Catalunya, Amgen Tour of California and Tour de France, as well as a June stage race showing at either the Dauphine Libere or the Tour of Switzerland — Armstrong said he thinks having a full season of racing in his legs will more than counteract the effects of growing another year older.
“Despite being one year older, I think I will benefit from the season we just finished,” Armstrong said. “All the training, having ridden the Giro and the Tour, that will benefit me. This December already feels different than last December. I struggled with my position last year, whereas this year I feel much more comfortable. I think we have the strongest team in world. At the Tour de France last year we were the strongest team, and of the nine riders from last year’s Tour team, eight are on RadioShack, so we took on the vast majority. It remains a strong team. We might lack a high-level favorite like Alberto, but I like our chances.”
Asked following the press conference to elaborate on Armstrong’s denial of singular team leadership, Bruyneel said Armstrong was, above all, a realist.
“Lance is definitely the leader of the team,” Bruyneel said. “But we also have to be realistic. The favorite of the Tour is not on our team. To beat that favorite, we will probably have to adopt another strategy and look at the different cards we have to play. Lance has won the Tour seven times, and no one else on the team has won it. And he was third this year, which is no small thing.
“But yes, it will be different this year. Alberto has won the last four grand tours he’s started. He’s proven he is the best climber in the sport, and now he’s proven he’s the best (GC rider) at the time trial too. At the same time, you start every season over, and sometimes you are not on the same team and you don’t have the same support. We have to hope Alberto is not on the same level as he was this year. But the Tour is not only about being the strongest — you have to have support, from the team, from the management, of the people around you, and there is also experience, and tactics. Cycling is not an exact science.”
Check back to velonews.com for more reports from RadioShack’s Tucson training camp, as well as video highlights from Armstrong’s press conference and interviews with all of the team’s top riders.