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They Will Discover Life Without Lance

Armstrong is retired, so U.S.-based cycling team is preparing for a season with new goals.

January 25, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

The questions came rapidly for Johan Bruyneel. How was training going for the only U.S.-based professional cycling team? Who was going to represent Discovery Channel in the inaugural Tour de California race next month? Who was going to be the team leader for Discovery at the 2006 Tour de France?

Sitting next to Bruyneel at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills was another guy, slim and fit with a widow's peak and a widening grin on his face. Finally, after being ignored for about five minutes, Lance Armstrong grabbed the microphone away from Bruyneel to say, "I don't believe this."

It is the way of sports, though. Discovery Channel is preparing a team for its first road race without seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong, and it is preparing for a season with retooled goals. The team won't be built for the main purpose of pushing Armstrong to victory in Paris.

"The Tour de France is still a focus for us," said Bruyneel, the Belgian technical director for Discovery Channel. "But we'll be the underdogs now. And we have other goals. The new Tour de California is a goal. The spring classics in Europe are a goal. The Giro d'Italia is a goal."

But, said Armstrong, "Johan is used to riding up the Champs Elysees in Paris in July in the first car. Not the third or fifth or 10th car. So I don't know if he wants that to be different."

When Discovery Channel saddles up for the inaugural Tour de California next month, the top riders will be George Hincapie, Tom Danielson, Paolo Savoldelli and Viatcheslav Ekimov. Who's the leader? Team director Bruyneel won't yet predict.

"It will sort itself out," Bruyneel said. "I'm not worried."

Armstrong, who is under contract to Discovery Channel for two more years, said his role with the team will be as an advisor.

"My relationship with Johan hasn't changed at all," Armstrong said. "It's an interaction constantly on a daily basis. Talking about the riders, their plans, their programs, their training, how they're looking, how they're not looking. It's important for me, and also Johan, that we maintain a consistency there."

Since winning his seventh Tour de France in July, Armstrong has been buffeted by charges in a French sports publication that there is proof Armstrong used blood-doping products during the 1999 Tour, the first in Armstrong's record-setting streak. Armstrong has flatly denied all drugging accusations and he has never failed a drug test, but Tour officials bluntly said that they were glad Armstrong was through with their race.

Armstrong said he wasn't sure about his plans for the Tour, and that he might watch part of it on TV or track results on his computer, and watch part in person in France.

"Much has been said about my views of the Tour officials," he said, "but to me the race still stands for everything great in the world of sports and especially cycling."

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