Postmen vow to deliver historic tour win for Lance

THE US Postal team are confident they will deliver a gift-wrapped fifth victory for their leader Lance Armstrong in the centenary-year running of the Tour de France which gets underway today.

rmstrong, whose sequence of wins began in 1999 after he won his battle with life-threatening cancer, is bidding to become the fifth man to win five Tours, but only the second after Spanish legend Miguel Indurain to do so in consecutive years.

And the postmen are confident they can again deliver the final yellow jersey to the 31-year-old Texan on July 27 at the traditional finishing point on the Champs Elysees.

"I think he (Armstrong) is in excellent form," said Armstrong's team-mate and compatriot Floyd Landis. "He is confident and so is the team. There is always the possibility of bad luck or another rider doing better but we are confident and we think he can win again," Landis told L'Equipe.

"The philosophy of the US Postal team is to have confidence in Lance and to concentrate on just one person."

While Armstrong's record is indeed remarkable, he would be the first to thank his team-mates for helping him to win four editions of the race traditionally considered the most gruelling event in world sport.

Another American, George Hincapie, who has accompanied him on all four of his wins, will be alongside the Texan again while Spain's Roberto Heras, a veteran of three of Armstrong's wins, will also be at the shoulder of his team leader, notably in the mountains.

Some have suggested that Heras and Landis might give Armstrong a run for his money if they were to jump ship and front another team but Heras downplayed that earlier in the week.

"It's tough to say because, anyway, Lance remains the best," said the Spaniard. "I would have perhaps a chance for second or third place (overall) but it's impossible to contest first place against Lance."

Their unselfish work and ability to stick with Armstrong through thick and thin has earned them the nickname "the blue train" as they manage to stay in close formation, even on the testing ascents of the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Alongside Armstrong, Heras, Hincapie and Landis are Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, Spain's Manuel Beltran and Jose Luis Rubiera, Colombia's Victor Hugo Pena and Pavel Padrnos of the Czech Republic.

Beltran is the only man not in last year's team he replaces Benoit Joachim of Luxembourg.

Landis, with a hip injury, and Hincapie, with lung trouble, have both had their problems, but have recovered and team manager Johan Bruyneel admitted it had been difficult to omit Joachim.

"The choice between him (Joachim) and Floyd was very difficult, but I'm confident that this year's team is our strongest possible line up," said Bruyneel.

"After missing the spring due to illness, George has come back very strong and showed us we can count on him. Floyd is in the same situation as George."

Armstrong, who is on American president George W Bush's cancer panel and knew the former Texas governor when both men were based in Austin, Texas, believes that the French supporters will not give him a hard time because of the bad relations between the countries.

"The supporters who love cycling know how to tell the difference between sports and politics," said Armstrong on Thursday.

"The public on the Champs Elysees are great. There are always many Americans and Texans who come to see the cycling."

Since Armstrong arrived in France from his seasonal home in Gerona, Spain, the US Postal team have been seen on the roads of northern France near Compiegne as they prepare for the 90th running of the famous race that began in 1903.

Friday was gala day with the 198 members of the peloton parading through Paris where Saturday's prologue will begin in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

And if the US Postal team live up to their boast then they will be riding together once more in the capital this time in victory formation on the Champs Elysees when the famous race is concluded on July 27.

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