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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Team boss backs Armstrong
By Matt Majendie

Johan Bruyneel (right) and Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong is in better shape than ever to win this year's Tour de France, according to team boss Johan Bruyneel.

Armstrong - almost 10 minutes behind current race leader Thomas Voeckler - is bidding to become the first rider to win six Tours.

And a host of former riders have argued the Texan is past his best and the feat will elude him.

"I speak to him throughout each stage and I've never seen him in better shape in a Tour," Bruyneel told BBC Sport.

"It makes me laugh when I hear people criticising Lance. He's physically fit, mentally tough and has probably the best team we've ever put out for a Tour."

Bruyneel, a former rider from Belgium, also admits the unknown forces of Armstrong's rivals remain a worry.

"Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras - they're all very good cyclists," he said. "As to how they fare, we'll wait and see in the mountains. But I'm confident Lance will fare better."

Six of Armstrong's team-mates have been kept from last year, with the major absentees being Heras and Victor Hugo Pena.

Heras is now heading up the Liberty-Seguros team's Tour ambitions, while Hugo Pena was left out, a decision Bruyneel called "one of the toughest".

In their places have come former Once riders Benjamin Noval and Jose Azevedo.

And Bruyneel said: "It was a painful decision and we thought long and hard about it, as we do every year. But as the race has gone on we feel the nine riders we've gone for are our strongest possible line-up."

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