By Gregor Brown
Lance Armstrong is on the eve of his return to racing in Europe. The American from Texas arrived at Milan's Castello Sforzesco Friday to hold a press conference one day before the 298-kilometre Milano-Sanremo, three years and eight months since he ended his career at the 2005 Tour de France.
The team Astana rider, 37, started his comeback journey in the fall of 2008 with some local races, but he pinned on his race number for the first time at the Tour Down Under in January. In February, he continued his racing programme in the Tour of California, but the Milano-Sanremo is the first time he is racing in an event that is so much a part of cycling's history.
Armstrong retired from the sport immediately after his seventh Tour de France victory. In his post-cancer career he excelled in stage races, not one-day races, although he did race a few of them. His last one was the 2005 Ronde van Vlaanderen, and his last appearance at Milano-Sanremo was in 2002.
"My first Milano-Sanremo was in 1993, with Motorola," said Armstrong. "I remember it well, even if I was not a factor because I was there to work for Max Sciandri."
"I think it is my sixth or seventh time here [at Milano-Sanremo]. For me it represents a lot of the history and beauty in cycling. It has a certain mystique. Unfortunately, I could not do the Tour of Flanders because of scheduling, but I wanted to do more Classics."
"It is good for training as well. It is hard to go out and do 300 kilometres in training."
What follows are some of the questions asked by members of the press attending the conference and Armstrong's replies.
What is your main ambition?
Lance Armstrong: I want to have a good and safe day. We know this race can be dangerous. If there are 30 or 40 guys in the end, I hope I am there with them. This race was never my strong suit, but I hope to be somewhat involved.
Did you test the new Le Mànie climb [94 kilometres before finish] this morning?
LA: I wanted to see it, to understand the run-in. I know how the finale of this race is dangerous and nervous.
I also wanted to ride the climb to see how difficult it is. The turn before it is narrow, so it will be fight to be in position. I also noted the wind: if it is the same as it was today, it won't be an easy start. It was a strong crosswind out there.
What do you remember of your race in 2002? [He finished 44th. - ed.]
LA: I don't remember it well, I am not young, and I forget a lot! If you look at Eddy Merckx's seven victories, he attacked in nearly the same place during all seven years. It has become, faster and more dangerous. It is beautiful, starting here, down to the coast and then winding down to Sanremo.
What will you do if you have a chance at victory?
LA: I am a racer, and if I had a chance to win, I would not pass it up. I don't know if I am there [in form] yet, there are guys who will be looking to attack in those key points where Merckx went. However, once a racer, always a racer.
Swiss world champ confirmed for Pietermaritzburg MTB World Cup opener
Switzerland's reigning men's cross country mountain bike world champion, Christoph Sauser, confirmed Friday that he will be on the start line of the first round of the 2009 UCI World Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, next month.
His confirmation follows that of women's cross country world champion, Margarita Fullana, of Spain, who tops the women's entry list in what will be the most prestigious international cycling event ever held in South Africa.
Sauser has won world championship titles in both the marathon (2007) and cross country (2008) disciplines and been a dominant podium topper at the highest level of the sport for more than a decade. The 32-year-old has among his achievements 14 World Cup victories and two overall World Cup Series titles.
"South Africa is my second home, so for me to be able to race a World Cup here is very special," said Sauser as he completed final preparations for the Cape Epic stage race, which starts in Cape Town on Saturday.
"I have many friends and fans in South Africa, and it will be good to be able to race a cross country World Cup in front of them. Cross country is my priority. Even though I am racing the Cape Epic stage race, all my preparation this year has been for the World Cup," he said.
Sauser has finished second in the World Cup series three times, has three silver World Championship medals and a bronze medal each from the World Championships and an Olympic Games.
"It is very good for mountain biking in South Africa and also Africa to host a World Cup. The Cape Epic took mountain bike racing in South Africa to a new level, and I think the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg is a product of that. I think the World Cup will take the sport even further. I look forward to being a part of that."
Sauser will pair up with South African star Burry Stander on the Mr Price Specialized team to tackle the eight-day, 685km Cape Epic, in which the pair are among the favourites to capture the overall win.
The World Cup, which incorporates the cross country, downhill and 4X disciplines, will take place in Pietermaritzburg from April 10-12.