Fri, Jul 04, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Lance Armstrong sticks with his old teammates in tour

AP , PARIS

Working on the principal that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, Lance Armstrong is sticking with tried and tested winning teammates in his drive for a record-equaling fifth straight Tour de France title.

Armstrong's US Postal Service team this week unveiled a nine-man squad that -- with just one exception -- is the same as the one that helped Armstrong capture his fourth Tour victory last year.

The new addition is Manuel Beltran, a Spaniard expected to assist Armstrong in the leg-crushing seven mountain stages. Beltran replaces Benoit Joachim, the only member of the 2002 squad not included for this year's Tour, which starts Saturday.

And Armstrong himself?

"Very strong ... Confident," Jogi Muller, a spokesman for the Postals, said Wednesday of the 31-year-old Texan's pre-race mental state. Armstrong was arriving in Paris from Spain on Wednesday for the race.

The Tour, a grueling 23-day, 3,427.5km clockwise slog around France, is the ultimate test of individual endurance, but few can win it without a good team.

In his biography, It's not about the bike, Armstrong explained how teammates are crucial to his success. On windy days or up steep climbs, they stay in front, shielding and sucking him along in their drafts.

They chase down riders who try to surge off ahead and protect the team leader from the jostling that goes on in the pack.

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