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Assisting Armstrong: The other guys on Team Discovery

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published July 24, 2005


Lance Armstrong may be the man at the Tour de France, but eight other men have been helping him roll toward an amazing seventh consecutive championship today.

Just who are the guys who have been riding the past three weeks with Armstrong on Team Discovery?

The stellar supporting cast is a diverse group, with roots in Italy, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and, of course, the United States.

The roster ranges from veteran Tour de France performer George Hincapie, who has ridden with Armstrong in his six previous Tour triumphs, to team newcomer Yaroslav Popovych - who may one day steal the Tour de France spotlight.

The team won the Stage 4 time trial on July 5, setting a record of 35.54 mph. And throughout the race, each member has played a key role in aiding the 33-year-old Armstrong along the 2,254-mile course, which covers 21 stages in 23 days.

Some are mountain riding specialists, others are sprinters, but all do whatever it takes to help Armstrong conserve energy and maintain his pace.

According to the Discovery Channel's Web site (team.discovery.com), "Often the leader's team will keep the pace very high to discourage other racers from attacking. The usual scenario is that the support climbers will stay with their leader as long as possible, until the moment he can decisively attack and go on either to win or increase his time difference to his rivals."

In addition, domestiques - derived from the French word for"servant" - willingly sacrifice their chances in order to help the team leader or a certain teammate.

That may be parting with a wheel from their bike, or even the bike itself. It may be sprinting after and trying to catch riders from other teams who have made a break for the lead.

In the end, it takes a team to bring glory to the man. Here is a look at who has been making the gears churn in the Armstrong machine:

TEAM DISCOVERY

The eight riders who make up Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel Team in the Tour de France:

JOSE AZEVEDO.

COUNTRY: Portugal.

AGE: 31. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-8; 130 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1994.

COMMENT: He is in his second year on the team. In 2004, his strong riding on the climbs helped team-leader Armstrong to the title. Azevedo finished fifth overall, the best of his career. In his first Tour de France in 2002, he placed sixth, helping the Spanish contingent win the team classification.

MANUEL BELTRAN.

COUNTRY: Spain.

AGE: 34. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-101/2; 132 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1995.

COMMENT: Regarded as a climbing specialist, he joined the team halfway through 2003 and completed a full season with it in 2004. Though he finished 46th overall at last year's Tour - his fourth - his strong efforts during the mountain phases contributed to the win. Among his career highlights: sixth at the Tour of Spain in 2003, ninth in 2002 and seventh in 1999.

GEORGE HINCAPIE.

COUNTRY: United States.

AGE: 32. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-3; 175 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1994.

COMMENT: He achieved a landmark at last year's race: the only rider, along with Armstrong, to compete with a team in six Tour de France victories. He played a pivotal part in the triumph, excelling on the cobblestone, time trial and mountain stages. This year, he won Stage 15, a 127.7-mile route with six categorized climbs, becoming the first teammate of Armstrong's to win a stage of the Tour. In addition, he won the overall at the Three Days at the Panne in '04 and finished a career-best fifth at Paris-Nice. His highlights include a win at Gent-Wevelgem (2001), the San Francisco Grand Prix (2001) and the U.S. Pro Championship (1998).

BENJAMIN NOVAL.

COUNTRY: Spain.

AGE: 26. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-2; 170 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 2001.

COMMENT: Last year was his first with the team. His strongest showing came with a third place in the Clasica de Almeria, but he also was in excellent form in the Tour de France. After struggling in the first week, Noval, the youngest member of the squad, made his presence known in the mountains. He placed 10th in the young rider competition. In 2003, he notched his third top 20 finish at the Tour of Murcia and took sixth at the Tour of Catalunya.

PAVEL PADRNOS.

COUNTRY: Czech Republic.

AGE: 34. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-3; 179 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1996.

COMMENT: He was a dependable team member last year in his third go-around with the team. At the 2004 Tour, he did his part, riding well in the rainy first week next to Armstrong and helping the squad to victory in the team time trial. Padrnos moved to the front in the mountain phase and eventually finished 79th overall, bettering his 2003 finish by 23 spots. The two-time Olympian started five straight Tours of Italy between 1997-2001.

YAROSLAV POPOVYCH.

COUNTRY: Ukraine Republic.

AGE: 25.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-8; 141 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 2002.

COMMENT: Touted as an emerging star and a future squad leader, he is making his first appearance with Team Discovery. Before this year, he established himself as a rider to watch, finishing third in the Tour of Italy in 2003 and fifth in 2004. Before becoming a pro, he raced for an Italian team that amassed 35 wins.

JOSE LUIS RUBIERA.

COUNTRY: Spain.

AGE: 32. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-11; 152 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1994.

COMMENT: He made a significant contribution in Armstrong's 2004 victory, finishing ninth in the final time trial and 19th for the second consecutive year. Highlights include three strong finishes at the Tour of Spain (sixth in 1999, seventh in 2001 and 11th in 2000). He also had three excellent performances at the Tour of Italy (eighth in 2000, 10th in 1997 and 13th in 1998). He won his first pro race in 1997 at Giro d'Italia.

PAOLO SAVOLDELLI.

COUNTRY: Italy.

AGE: 32. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-11; 158 pounds.

TURNED PRO: 1996.

COMMENT: A newcomer to Team Discovery, he won Stage 17 - the longest of the Tour at nearly 150 miles - on Wednesday. He made his mark on the Tour of Italy, winning it in 2002 and finishing second in 1999. He spent the past two years with the T-Mobile team but struggled with injuries and illness. He missed the 2004 Tour de France due to a concussion sustained in a crash but finished the season in good form (seventh at the Regio Tour and sixth at the Tour of Great Britain).

Source for bios: http://team.discovery.com