Sastre assails Armstrong

Tour champ not joking Champ has lesson for Armstrong

Wire Services / July 4, 2009
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The singular focus of the Tour de France this season was established when Lance Armstrong announced last fall he would be returning to the race he has won seven times. And that focus hasn’t changed as the participants prepare to log their first mile today.

Defending champion Carlos Sastre said Armstrong could use a lesson in respect after the Texan reportedly called the race last year “a bit of a joke.’’ Sastre, a 34-year-old Spanish veteran, said Armstrong, 37, is entitled to his opinion, but he insists it’s the wrong one.

“It’s his point of view, it’s his words - his life,’’ Sastre said yesterday. “He is a great champion, he won seven Tours de France, a world championship, he’s a great rider.’’

“But behind every rider must be a person, and on that point, maybe he needs to learn something more,’’ he said, adding: “There is something wrong with him about respect.’’

In the new book, “Lance - The Making of the World’s Greatest Champion’’ by John Wilcockson, Armstrong is said to have recounted his early musings about a possible comeback after the 2008 Tour.

“The Tour was a bit of a joke this year. I’ve got nothing against Sastre . . . or Christian Vande Velde,’’ Armstrong was quoted as saying. “Christian’s a nice guy, but finishing fifth in the Tour de France? Come on!’’

Armstrong, Sastre, Vande Velde, and 2007 winner and prerace favorite Alberto Contador will be among the 180 riders set to embark from Monaco today on a 9.6-mile time trial. The Tour covers 2,175 miles over 21 stages, concluding in Paris July 26.

But make no mistake - Sastre will be the only rider wearing jersey No. 1 today. The Tour better suits Sastre this year than most as the 96th edition favors climbers. Time trials - which are not his strength - have been given relatively less importance than the mountains, where he excels.

Roselyne Bachelot, France’s sports minister, said Armstrong will be “particularly monitored’’ in anti-doping checks this year.

“The [doping] controls will be multiplied, and I tell Lance Armstrong that he will be particularly, particularly, particularly monitored,’’ Bachelot told i-Tele, a French cable network.

The head of France’s anti-doping agency, which is working with cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union, on doping checks for the race, has said Armstrong will be treated like any other rider regarding drug testing. The UCI is planning more than 500 doping checks this year.

Armstrong certainly will be the target of fan support as well. European cycling fans haven’t seen Armstrong ride in the Tour since 2005, when he secured his seventh title and retired soon after.

“I don’t have the confidence that I had before,’’ Armstrong said. He added that he would help his Astana teammates, Contador and American Levi Leipheimer, win if either one proves to be a better rider than he is.

“Whatever it takes,’’ Armstrong said. “The most important thing is for us to win.’’

The rest of the peloton, however, is out to capture the spotlight Armstrong has commanded since announcing his comeback in September.

“I don’t care about the other riders or think about them at all,’’ Sastre said. “I know how to win the race, and I think I can do it again. If Armstrong is strong, or if he’s not, it doesn’t matter to me.’’