By Shane Stokes
The organisers of the Tour of Ireland have reacted positively to the news that Lance Armstrong is considering riding the race in 2009. The seven-time Tour de France winner said at a press conference on Thursday that he will consider taking part in the 2.1-ranked event.
"We are seriously looking at the Tour of Ireland," he told the media at the conference, which took place at the Astana team training camp in Tenerife. "Ironically enough I did that race in 1992 [when it was the Nissan Classic], which makes me feel very old.
"The timing works out really well," he added. The Tour of Ireland will run from August 19-23. Its project director Darach McQuaid said on Thursday evening that he was very pleased with the news. "The Tour of Ireland this year saw some of the world's best cyclists competing on Irish roads, including sprinting phenomenon Mark Cavendish.
"Having seven-time Tour de France winner Lance compete will bring the event to a whole new level. Even before Lance's statement of interest, we have had major world teams show interest in coming. We could not be more pleased at this new development."
Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in 1996 but successfully fought the disease and returned to the sport, beginning his run of Tour successes in 1999. He indicated that measures such as the smoking ban are part of the reason why he would compete in the Irish race. "Ireland has been very progressive with regard to this issue of public health. I'd love to be back there, 17 years later."
Although Armstrong's return to cycling has not been welcomed by all - he has faced repeated allegations of doping and a French laboratory said that retested urine samples from the 1999 Tour showed the presence of EPO - McQuaid is convinced it is big news for the race.
"His comeback after three years of retirement is a big global sports story and we are delighted that he is seriously considering participating here next summer," stated the Irishman, brother of the current UCI President Pat McQuaid. He added that it would raise the profile of the event and make it easier to attract additional sponsors.