The possible return of Lance Armstrong to the 2009 Tour de France did not have a big impact on the race organiser's chief executives at the presentation of the route on Wednesday. "It is neither a good, nor a bad thing," said race director Christian Prudhomme as reporters asked him for comment. "He is an outstanding personality, but all the riders on the start line are treated in the same way."
The seven-times Tour de France winner, who may - or may not - add the Grande Boucle to his racing programme after the Giro d'Italia next year, would of course be allowed to race in next year's Tour. But because of the tense relationship between the American, the Tour organiser, the French media as well as the French public in the past, Armstrong's team manager Johan Bruyneel has indicated that he was waiting for the organisers to approach him at this point.
"I'd like to have a discussion with the new president of the Tour de France," Bruyneel said to Cyclingnews. He referred to 32 year-old Jean-Etienne Amaury who succeeded Patrice Clerc, and who said earlier this month that Armstrong had "embarrassed" the race in the past. "In normal life, I always attend a party if I'm invited and welcome. If I don't feel that I'm welcome, even if I'm invited, I don't go. Here it'll be the same."
But Tour director Christian Prudhomme remained neutral to his presence, making no reference to Armstrong in his introductory speech before revealing the parcours. "It's up to the invited teams to determine their riders," he said. "[Armstrong] indicated that his main objective would be the Giro d'Italia, which will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. It's for him to see if he can do the Tour afterwards."
But more parameters are apparently being taken into consideration, as Armstrong has said that the primary reason for his comeback is raising awareness and funds for cancer research. Italy's national tour will greatly gain from Armstrong's presence, and the Texan champion has himself indicated that the benefit would be mutual. One month ago, prior announcing his decision to ride the Giro, Armstrong said to sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, "If I'm able to involve your prime minister [Silvio] Berlusconi in the fight against cancer and some other things line up, who knows, it could be the right year to come your way."
Armstrong's participation in the Tour could therefore also depend on French top level politics. Still, Bruyneel maintained it was just a question of the 37 year-old being competitive enough as an athlete to confront the hardest bike race on earth. "The decision on Lance's participation in the Tour de France 2009 is for later," said the Belgian. "For the moment it is 50-50 whether he will ride the Tour. After the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California, we will know more."
Armstrong himself, for now, summed up his next year's commitment by saying he would enjoy it either way. "Whether it's promoting the Livestrong global cancer campaign or making the biggest bike race in the world the gem that it deserves to be, I look forward to next year," he stated in a press release.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of Lance Armstrong's comeback
January 18, 2009 - Armstrong announces start of Catlin's drug testing programme
January 8, 2009 - Armstrong impresses Carmichael prior to Tour Down Under
January 7, 2009 - Armstrong believes Team Astana can dominate Tour
December 10, 2008 - Merckx: Armstrong's return good for cycling and Giro
December 8, 2008 - Armstrong climbs Teide
December 6, 2008 - Rast on life with Armstrong
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong considers Tour of Ireland
December 5, 2008 - Armstrong: Contador is the best
December 4, 2008 - Horner unites with Armstrong despite past differences
December 3, 2008 - Armstrong and Contador ride separate paths towards Tour
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong surfs with Astana
December 2, 2008 - Armstrong plans to race Tour
December 1, 2008 - Armstrong's anti-doping testing program pending
November 23, 2008 - Media out of love with Armstrong?
November 22, 2008 - Andreu caught up in Armstrong fight again
November 19, 2008 - Armstrong concerned about Tour safety
November 17, 2008 - Armstrong to meet with ASO
November 9, 2008 - Armstrong racing in Texas again
November 7, 2008 - Exclusive Armstrong wind tunnel video
November 7, 2008 - Lance Armstrong speaks at Web 2.0 conference
November 6, 2008 - Carmichael dials in Armstrong's comeback training
November 5, 2008 - Armstrong looking for balance
November 5, 2008 - Photos from Armstrong's wind tunnel test
November 3, 2008 - Armstrong doubles up and heads to wind tunnel