José Azevedo says Lance Armstrong will do just fine in this year’s Tour de France, but cautioned against calling it a two-horse race against Alberto Contador.
The Portuguese ex-pro rode in support in the final two of Armstrong’s seven Tour victories and is now back under the team fold as a new sport director at RadioShack.
“Lance’s goal is the Tour and he will be ready. I believe he can do it,” Azevedo told VeloNews. “The Tour is not just a fight between Lance and Alberto. There are other riders who can win, the Schlecks, Sastre, Evans, Nibali, Basso, there are many contenders. I think it’s disrespectful to all the riders to only talk about Lance and Alberto.”
Azevedo, 36, got his first taste behind the wheel at last week’s Volta ao Algarve, where RadioShack enjoyed an excellent European debut.
RadioShack won the team’s prize, Sébastian Rosseler scored the team’s first pro race in a 30km solo breakaway in stage 4, and Tiago Machado and Levi Leipheimer rode to third and fourth, respectively, in the overall.
“I’m very happy to be back with this team. My experiences riding with Lance and Johan were among my best as a professional,” he said. “I am looking forward to working with the younger riders and learning all I can from the other sport directors.”
Azevedo retired after the 2008 Tour of Portugal and is considered the most successful modern-day Portuguese rider. A strong time trialist and consistent climber, he was a consistent top-10 performer in grand tours and came to Discovery Channel in 2004 to become one of Armstrong’s most reliable workers.
Azevedo is already proving that his racing savvy will pay dividends behind the wheel as a sport director. At Algarve, he provided Rosseler with the order to attack with nearly 30km to go in Saturday’s hilly stage 4, a tactic that delivered the team’s first victory.
“Azevedo told me the peloton was closing in and that I should try something if I had the legs,” Rosseler said. “I thought 30km was kind of far, but he said it was better to try to escape when the gap was still around three minutes instead of waiting until the peloton was only a minute or so behind.”
The victory bodes well for RadioShack, which brings together a mix of core veterans from the Discovery Channel/Astana teams as well as a crop of young up-and-comers, including Machado.
“We will have a very strong team for the Tour. Contador is the favorite but we will be fighting for everything,” he said. “The first team win is always very important. We were close before but to finally win is always significant. We know we have a strong team and we know that we will be competitive in every race we go to.”
Azevedo said Machado — who finished second to Contador in Friday’s climbing stage and hung on to a podium spot with third overall at Algarve — is a rider who can be a leader of the next generation of Portuguese riders.
“Tiago is an important rider for the future. Already in the training camps, we could see that he was climbing well. So what he did Friday was not a complete surprise for us,” he said. “He is not yet at the top of his strength,but he needs another three, four years to gain experience and then really see his potential. He needs to race in the big events against the top riders. We don’t know how far he can go, but I believe in a few years, he can be a major rider in the peloton.”