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Last Updated: Friday, 23 July, 2004, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Posties pack a punch
Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis
Armstrong receives ultimate support
Lance Armstrong will deservedly take the plaudits after his tour de force in the Tour de France.

The American has been simply awesome turning up the heat on his opponents seemingly at will.

However, his success is anything but a one-man show.

Without his eight long-suffering team-mates he would not be in the position to win a record-breaking sixth Tour, and it is they who will ensure he gets to Paris in one piece.

Most pertinently, it is at their will that opponents are left trailing.

Prior to the Pyrenees everyone was preparing for a final week of high drama in the Alps.

Everyone bar the US Postals. They attacked at the first opportunity and turned the Tour on its head.

Armstrong is the chief beneficiary and he has made a point of hailing his team after each of his four stage wins.

Following his sprint finish to beat Andreas Kloden in the 17th stage, the 32-year-old described his US Postal team-mates as being "simply too strong".

Throughout the day he had sat behind the wheel of the first man in his "Blue Train" as they stoked the fire at the front of the peloton, turning up the heat with each passing kilometre.

Armstrong was given an armchair ride by trusted lieutenants over successive climbs.

1. Lance Armstrong (USA)
2. Jose Azevedo (Portugal)
3. Manuel Beltran (Spain)
4. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia)
5. George Hincapie (USA)
6. Floyd Landis (USA)
7. Benjamin Noval (Spain)
8. Pavel Padrnos (Czech Rep.)
9. Jose Luis Rubiera (Spain)
Over the tortuous Col de la Madeleine, at 2,000m the highest peak in the race, Pavel Padrnos hit the pedals in a relentless routine at the front.

George Hincapie, who has ridden with Armstrong in each of his Tour victories, took his turn to set the tempo on the the day's shortest, but steepest, slope the Col de la Forclaz.

Jose Azevedo, who has been by Armstrong's side on all the Tour's long drags, was never far away, but when he fell off the pace on the Col de la Croix Fry, Jan Ullrich and co must have sensed an opportunity to pounce.

The only problem was that Azevedo fell off the pace that was being set by Floyd Landis, a "Postie" who prefers to leave climbing to Azevedo, Manuel Beltran or Jose Luis Rubiera.

But there he was, setting a tempo that reduced the field to five - a feat even Armstrong admitted he has rarely seen. He stayed with his leader until the bitter and brilliant end.

And in the approach to the line the gulf between US Postal and their rivals was highlighted when T-Mobile, with Ullrich and Kloden, riding together and with the odds stacked in their favour, failed to secure a victory. Armstrong stole in for the kill.

Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and George Hincapie on the cobbles
Landis and Hincapie lead Armstrong across the cobbles
Landis and co are a loyal and tireless crew, happy to spurn the trappings of personal success for Armstrong's benefit, and their efforts on stage 17 were no exception.

As early as stage three they drove the peloton across the cobbles, shepherding Armstrong to safety while major rival Iban Mayo suffered at the back on roads dubbed the "Hell of the North".

A day later they finished 67 seconds clear of the next best squad in the team time trial, and across the undulating routes to the Pyrenees they fetched and carried and protected Armstrong for hours on end in the saddle.

And then came the mountains when, as they have in the Alps, they drove the pace, whittling the field down as roads climbed ever upwards, leaving riders scattered on the slopes like snakes of confetti.

It is a simple formula in which one man rides until he has no more to give before handing over to another blue-clad colossus. Simple in theory, simply sapping in practice.

And when things are not going to plan, they have months of preparation to fall back on and supreme confidence in their own ability.

People don't understand that him winning is a lot about us winning as well
Hincapie on Armstrong
The US Postal outfit is a Tour de France team. They ride all year with one aim, to see Armstrong in yellow on the Champs Elysees.

To that end they have an intimate knowledge of the key stages and know every kilometre, of every road on every route.

Perhaps Armstrong's greatest victory, in partnership with team manager Johan Bruyneel, is hand-picking the perfect men for the job and getting their un-flinching commitment to the cause.

It makes his task in the Tour easier and allows him to concentrate on the job in hand - winning.

And when Illes Balears team director Eusebio Unzue complains "Armstrong hardly needs to do anything himself", you know what he means.

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