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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Armstrong 'stronger than last year'
Lance Armstrong
Armstrong at the Futuroscope theme park this week
Defending Tour de France champion is "mentally stronger" than before last year's race, according to his team manager.

US Postal team director Johan Bruyneel says this year the American has the psychological advantage of knowing he can win the race.

Armstrong beat cancer in 1996 and then trumphed over the rest of the field in last year's Tour.

This year's race begins at the Futuroscope theme park this Saturday.
Marco Pantani and team
Team training: Pantani leads his team-mates on Thursday

It sees the return of Italy's 1998 winner Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich, the German who emerged victorious three years ago.

And Armstrong is battling to convince the doubters who said his win last year was due to the weakened field.

"Physically, he is at least as good as last year and mentally he is stronger," says Bruyneel.

The US Postal director has plenty of experience of the Tour.

In 1995 he beat Miguel Indurain to a stage win in Liege.
Johan Bruyneel's 1996 accident
Bruyneel's 1996 Tour featured a spectacular crash and brave recovery

The following year he crashed off a mountain road and had to clamber back up a bank to get a new bike and carry on.

Armstrong and the Dutchman formed a formidable tactical partnership during last year's Tour and Bruyneel believes a repeat is very possible.

"We started out last year with big motivation but only with a dream of winning it, without any evidence.

"Now, he has shown it is possible and that makes a difference in the approach to the Tour."

Pantani and Ullrich will provide stiff competition after missing last year's race.

The Italian he has fought his way back into contention with a solid performance in this year's Tour of Italy.

But he admits his form is still not at the 1998 level.
Jan Ullrich is checked
Ullrich: No cream cakes at the pre-Tour health check

"The first 10 days up to the Pyrenees are the most dangerous for me," he said.

Pantani believes Jan Ullrich is this year's favourite and the 1997 winner will be a contender if he can control his weight - a factor in his defeat by the Italian in 1998.

The German has a self-confessed addiction to his mother's cakes but is confident after winning last year's Vuelta A Espana.

"My fitness is back, my weight is okay, and I have good feelings. I will be fighting for the yellow jersey," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Lance Armstrong
"Winning the first time wasn't just a victory - it was a comeback from cancer"
US Postal boss Johan Bruyneel
on Armstrong's Tour hopes
See also:

22 Jun 00 | Tour de France
25 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
Links to more Tour de France stories are at the foot of the page.


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