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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 23:46 GMT 00:46 UK
Armstrong shrugs off Ekimov blow
Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong (US)
George Hincapie (US)
Jose Luis Rubiera, Manuel Beltran, Benjamin Noval (all Spain)
Pavel Padrnos (Czech Republic)
Jose Azevedo (Portugal)
Paolo Savoldelli (Italy)
Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine)
Lance Armstrong has said Viatcheslav Ekimov's absence from Team Discovery will harm his Tour de France bid, but insisted he still expected success.

Ekimov, who has helped Armstrong win five Tours, injured his back in a training crash in April.

Nevertheless, Armstrong said the eight men riding alongside him formed the "strongest ever" combination. "

"I'll miss Eki dearly but I plan riding the race with all the toughness he's shown," said the six-time Tour winner.

"The team has many consistent elements from years past. I'm more motivated than ever."

Armstrong's team has two changes from last year, with last month's Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Salvodelli and Tour of Catalonia winner Yaroslav Popovych coming in.

American George Hincapie, who has been with Armstrong for all his six previous wins, is included again.

Ekimov, from St Petersburg, first won Olympic gold in the team pursuit for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Games.

He went on to prevail in the individual time trial at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, before finishing second to American Tyler Hamilton in the same event in 2004.

He has completed an astonishing 14 Tour de France races, making him one of the most experienced cyclists in the world.

Viatcheslav Ekimov
Ekimov won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympics
The 39-year-old has been an integral part of Armstrong's individual domination of the Tour de France, a view shared by Team Discovery chief Johan Bruyneel.

"On paper, it's a super team but of course, we are missing Ekimov - he would definitely be on the team if he was healthy," said Bruyneel.

"I wanted an experienced team for Lance's last Tour and that was the determining factor.

"I want him to be surrounded by guys who have always been around him."

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