Wed, 09 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Armstrong fails to fire in Paris-Nice first stage

Jean Montois, Associated Press/Chabris, France

Six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong admitted Monday that he was having difficulty getting fired up in his first race of the season at the Paris-Nice here this week.

The 34-year-old Texan finished Monday's first stage in 44th position, 41sec behind in-form Belgian rider Tom Boonen of the Quick Step who achieved his third stage win of the season after the 186.5 km run.

"It's my first race of the season and I'm not very sharp," said Armstrong who struggled in 140th position in Sunday's prologue.

"I'm probably slower simply because I stayed longer than usual in the United States. When I return to Europe I pay a lot more attention to my form because I train regularly, eat better and have nothing to distract me.

"Over there (USA) l've a lot of commitments and have problems juggling the rigors of preparation and other non-sporting demands," he explained.

"I've hardly followed the beginning of the season whereas normally I'm on the internet every day following results.

"Now, apart from those of the team, I'm not concerned. Some will see this as a sign of something but in my head everything is okay, even if the bad news is that I'm going to stay just one month in Europe. It will be a month of hard work without any distractions."

Armstrong insisted that he will be as fired up as ever when he bids for a seventh Tour de France title this summer.

"The Tour is my favorite race, which I owe everything to, for which I live," he said of his decision to compete again.

"I took into account that we have a new sponsor Discovery Channel who are perfectly aware of the importance of the Tour de France. In no way did they force my hand. And then at the bottom of my heart I wanted to continue my Tour de France adventure. It's above all a decision of the heart.

"In fact I'm going to approach it like the others. The figure, the record, all that is of no importance. It will be like the first, like the second. Winning the greatest race in the world one more time."

Armstrong is now in 70th position overall in the Paris-Nice 1min 08sec behind Dutch rider Erik Dekker.

Boonen 24, won two stages in the Tour of Qatar in January, led a group of twenty riders which formed after a crash at the top of the peleton after 8km, which slowed previous race winners Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov and Jorg Jaksche of Germany.

South African rider Robert Hunter was forced out because of a badly cut right elbow which he suffered when he crashed during the stage.

He quickly applied to race in Wednesday's Tirreno-Adriatic race as preparation for the first one day classic of the season the Milan-San Remo on March 19 but the sport's governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) refused to give him the green light.