Lance Armstrong stood alone atop the podium after his last three Tour wins, but his victories were built on the backs of a team of world-class riders expected to chase down breakaways instead of chasing the maillot jaune. While some teams, like Spain's Kelme, stack the deck with pure climbers, and others, like Belgium's Domo, bank on their sprinters, the U.S. Postal Service team plays a delicate balancing game to give Armstrong a full range of defenses. But putting together a winning team isn't cheapArmstrong has a history of handing over his Tour winnings to his teammates ($337,00) and reportedly dishes out another $250,000 from his own pocket. Here's a guide to the riders pushing for an Armstrong four-peat.
Wispy Roberto Heras (1), from Bejar, Spain, is a mountain climber par excellence. He'll be the last teammate to stay with Armstrong in the Alps and Pyrenees, going on the offensive to make the opposition waste energy catching up. Should Armstrong get sick or injured, 28-year-old Heras takes over as team leader.
As team leader, Lance Armstrong (2) has the job of doing as little work as possible in the flat stages, while staying on guard for splits in the pack that could cost him time if he gets stuck in the slow half. The 30-year-old Texan has to save himself for when it counts: the grueling climbs and time trials, where he can clinch a win.
The role of Spainiard José; Luis Rubiera (3) is simpleblow apart the lead pack on uphill climbs. Expect him to take the offensive on stage 14's Mont Ventoux. George Hincapie (5), the strapping, 6-foot-3, 170-pounder out of Greenville, South Carolina, is master of the flats, reeling in all who escape the peloton.
THE FOOT SOLDIERS
The remaining five (4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) are the sacrificial lambsthey'll fetch water bottles and help pace Lance back into the peloton if he gets a flat. Twenty-six-year-old Floyd Landis, of San Diego, a powerful climber with strong time trial skills who finished second at the Dauphiné; Libé;ré; in June, will pace the posse of Colombian Victor Hugo Peñ;a, Benoît Joachim of Luxembourg, Czech Pavel Padrnos, and Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia.