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Armstrong lines up his bets

Two-time defending Tour champ says Ullrich, Beloki, Casagrande are favorites. He puts money on himself.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001

DUNKIRK, France -- Lance Armstrong is riding high, indeed. His wife, Kristin, is four months' pregnant with twins. He won the Tour of Switzerland impressively last week. He has just been elevated to the top spot in rankings of the world's professional bicycle racers. And today he sets off as the overwhelming favorite to win his third successive Tour de France.

"I disagree with you that I'm an overwhelming favorite," he said Thursday at a news conference in Dunkirk, where the 88th Tour de France will start its three-week journey to Paris.

He then listed his favorites, courteously not including himself: Jan Ullrich, the German who won in 1997 and finished second last year; Joseba Beloki, a Spaniard who was third last year, and Francesco Casagrande, an Italian who was No. 1 in the world this year.

But don't let Armstrong's courteousness fool you. British bookmaker William Hill said the American bet $1,400 on himself to win at odds of 8-15. Armstrong will make a profit of about $750 if he wins.

William Hill rates Ullrich the 3-1 second favorite, with Beloki at 11-1 and Casagrande 14-1.

Ullrich seemed to be Armstrong's choice as his main rival. Noting that the German won his national championship Sunday, Armstrong said: "He's a fantastic rider. He's strong. He's lost weight. I think he's in shape."

Discussing his own form, Armstrong parried a question about whether his victory in the 10-day Tour of Switzerland might mean he peaked too early. "I found good form in the Tour of Swiss," he said. "In the early stages I was suffering on the climbs; I wasn't clicking. Then it began to feel better."

Armstrong said he felt confident about his U.S. Postal Service team, which has been overhauled. Gone are American support riders Frankie Andreu and Kevin Livingston, replaced by Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera, two fine Spanish climbers, and Victor Hugo Pena, a Colombian.

"I know it's the strongest team I've ever started the Tour de France with," Armstrong said.

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