As Lance Armstrong descended from the Discovery Channel team bus into the usual scrum of cameramen Thursday afternoon, he turned to team spokesman Dan Osipow and said, "Are you ready for this again?"
The mini-mob, six or eight deep, shuffled slowly backward through the parking lot, lenses trained on every step of Armstrong's short stroll into the exhibition hall where hundreds of journalists awaited him.
Armstrong looked none the worse for the minor spill he took recently and appears ready. Ready for the daily craziness outside the bus, ready for the physical challenges of the next three weeks and ready to fill in the last pages of a bulging scrapbook.
He said he will allow himself a few nostalgic moments, but he won't stop to smell the sunflowers at the expense of trying to extend his Tour de France victory streak to seven.
"Every day will be special, every finish will be special, but I can't let that feeling and that emotion interfere with what I'm trying to do here," Armstrong said. "For me, it's not a promenade around France. I'm still trying to win."
Having cleared that up, Armstrong said he is far more at ease now than he was last year at this time.
"I had the impression that I was up against, not a demon, but . . . some of the greats of cycling had never been able to win a sixth Tour," he said. "Many people said that means it's simply not possible, for some other reason, a higher reason. That's an incredible burden to get rid of.
"I'm not chasing history, I'm not chasing a record, I'm not chasing a legacy. I'm just here to have a good time and enjoy my last Tour and enjoy the good form I think I have."
Armstrong proceeded to answer questions ranging from the pragmatic to the fantastic, including a query about whether he was interested in running for president.
"Look, I don't like this setting," he said, indicating the news conference. "So why would I be the president and have this setting every day? It's true that things like politics and the good of a country or a community interest me. But I don't know that I'm cut out for politics.
"In any case, I need a few years to just relax and really evaluate what I want to do with my life, if that's a life in the public eye or not in the public eye. I have no dreams of the White House."
Looming more significantly in Armstrong's waking moments is Saturday's opening time trial course, an 11.8-mile spin from the coastal town of Fromentine over a bridge and along a straight, flat road on the Ile de Noirmoutier that is exposed to the elements.
Armstrong, who has won 7 of 10 long time trials contested during his Tour streak, previewed the course Thursday and said he rode into a headwind the entire way.
The ride felt longer than it is, he added, and will result in some meaningful time gaps by day's end. "We have to look at it as a serious stage and start to try to take time if that's possible," he said.
The 33-year-old Texan killed several of his potential rivals with kindness. He said he is a "real fan" of Team CSC leader Ivan Basso, the young Italian who showed moxie in several mountain matchups with him last year, calling him "always motivated, always a classy rider."
Basso looked strong in the recent Tour of Italy until he was weakened by a stomach bug, but came back to win two late stages.
T-Mobile's "triple threat" of Germany's Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden and Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan will have to be "neutralized," Armstrong said. He reserved special praise for Vinokourov, who has looked exceptionally strong this season after missing last year's Tour because of injury.
Discovery is interested in signing Vinokourov for next year, but Armstrong predicted that the aggressive 31-year-old would stay put. Armstrong also went out on a swaying branch and said he would bet on Ullrich -- the 1997 Tour winner and a five-time runner up -- to win next year's race if the competitive landscape remains similar.
"But you never know," Armstrong said. "It could be Basso, it could be [teammate Yaroslav] Popovych, it could be someone we're not even thinking about."
The ruddy-faced, fit-looking Ullrich, who has struggled with weight issues in past offseasons, preceded Armstrong in the news conference room. He gave his characteristically bland prerace comments except when he was asked if he would miss Armstrong next year.
Ullrich smiled as he answered.
"If he has a party on the Champs-Elysees, I hope to get an invitation, and I'll shed a tear or two," he said.
Lance Armstrong, who has won every Tour de France since 1999, is tested in preparation for tomorrow's start. The race's first stage is a time trial.