Cycling-Giro winner Savoldelli celebrates Tour stage win

By Francois Thomazeau

REVEL, France, July 20 - Italy's Paolo Savoldelli
crowned a remarkable season on Wednesday by adding his first
Tour de France stage win to his victory in the Giro d'Italia.

The 32-year-old celebrated a year of recovery with Lance
Armstrong's Discovery Channel team by taking the 17th stage at
Revel in a final dash to the line ahead of Kurt-Asle Arvesen of

Two months earlier he had won the Giro for the second time,
a formidable achievement for a rider who was on the verge of
ending his career after a series of injuries and accidents since
his first Italian triumph in 2002.

The performances, which include nearly three weeks helping
Armstrong set a course for a record seventh Tour victory, have
fully vindicated the faith shown by team manager Johan Bruyneel.

"It's a fact that I've had a great year. Everything has gone
well", Savoldelli said.

"When I climbed onto the podium, I felt a great emotion
because of all the ceremony and the crowd.

"It was something that had been missing in my career because
the Tour is the greatest race in the world, on the bike and off
it," he said.

His first Giro success had been helped by his main rival,
Gilberto Simoni, being kicked out after failing a dope test for
cocaine. The following years had been a steady decline.

After joining T-Mobile, he crashed into a moped in 2003,
then caught a virus and fractured a collarbone.

"In 2003 and 2004, I virtually didn't ride for a whole year
for one reason or another and it is very difficult to make it

"I could have called it quits but I wanted to prove my Giro
victory had not come by chance," he said.


Bruyneel was the only one to keep believing in the shy
Italian and that faith was repaid with a second Giro title when
everybody expected Damiano Cunego, Ivan Basso or Simoni to

Savoldelli immediately made it clear he would ride his fifth
Tour only to help Armstrong, despite having been a team leader
for most of his career.

"For sure, it was not easy being a team mate because I had
never done it before. But it was made easier by the simple and
obvious fact that Lance is the best.

"The more I see him and the more I tell myself that he's the
only one. He's on another planet," he said.

Armstrong gave him a chance to have his day on the Tour and
the Texan's looming retirement could give the Italian ideas.

"I don't know. For the future, the team already have a great
rider in Yaroslav Popovych and we might hire another big name,"
he said.

"For me winning the Tour would be very hard as it requires
exceptional mental strength. In recent years, we only had Felice
Gimondi and Marco Pantani winning the Tour for Italy.

"The Tour is much more difficult than the Giro not because
the climbs are harder but because the riders are much stronger",
he said.

Savoldelli also believes another Italian is better placed
than he to succeed Armstrong next season.

"I think Ivan Basso has proved he has what it takes to take
over from Armstrong. He showed on the Giro that he has improved
a lot in time trials and, in the mountains, he was the only one
who could follow Lance.

"Physically and mentally, he's ready," he said.