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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Roche writes off Armstrong
By Matt Majendie
BBC Sport in Liege

Jan Ullrich
Ullrich is Roche's tip for 2004
Lance Armstrong will fail to become the first man to win six Tours de France, according to 1987 winner Stephen Roche.

Armstrong is the race favourite in 2004, but Irishman Roche believes 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich will halt the Texan's historic bid.

"I would be really surprised if Armstrong won," Roche told BBC Sport.

"He may be mentally tougher than he's ever been and tactically more astute, but I don't believe he's the same rider physically anymore."

He added: "If I were to pick it, I'd go Ullrich first, Tyler Hamilton second and Armstrong third."

Armstrong does not appear to be at his best going into the 2004 race.

He was outridden by Iban Mayo and Hamilton on the Dauphine Libere and looked as though he was struggling at crucial times.

In contrast, Ullrich appears to be in good shape, close to the sort of form that won him the race seven years ago.

Last year, the cracks started to show... those cracks are only going to get wider
Stephen Roche on
Lance Armstrong

And Roche believes the German has even more "bite" after his runner-up spot 12 months ago.

"People have been talking about him carrying too much weight and not looking as sharp in races as before, but that's nonsense," said Roche.

"He looked better and better in his final warm-up - the Tour of Switzerland - and I think he's hitting top form at exactly the right time."

Armstrong endured his toughest Tour in 2003.

Although he won - matching the achievements of five-time champions Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain - he lacked the invincibility of previous seasons.

He suffered from malnutrition and dehydration, fell on the final ascent on stage 15, and was repeatedly attacked by his rivals.

"Last year, the cracks started to show," said Roche. "Those cracks are only going to get wider."




SEE ALSO
Armstrong to fight claims
02 Jul 04  |  Cycling



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