Two Tour de France champions who are competing in the upcoming Tour Down Under arrived in Sydney this weekend: the first, seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who has dominated the headlines with his return to the sport after a three-year hiatus. The other? 2006 Tour de France champion Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, who quietly arrived in Australia with his Caisse d'Epargne teammate Luis Leon Sanchez.
Race organisers were asked to keep Armstrong's travel plans quiet to prevent a mob scene at the airport, but fans and the media still greeted the Texan at the Sydney airport. He commented on the day via his "Twitter" feed [an internet service that allows users to post brief messages from their mobile devices]. "So much for sneaking into Australia...my old journo buddy Rupert Guinness says since I didn't Twitter for 10 hours, it tipped them off. Haha."
His entrance into the country garnered quite a bit more attention than that of his Astana teammates, who flew in earlier in the day minus Jose Luis Rubiera and Jesus Hernandez, who were delayed due to bad weather in Europe. They eventually arrived half a day after the rest of the team.
Aside from keeping Armstrong's movements a secret, Adelaide Now reported that organisers have arranged to have Armstrong protected by a security team which will follow him throughout his stay in Australia. Armstrong was escorted to Adelaide, where the Tour Down Under will start on January 20. He is reportedly staying at the Hilton Hotel in Victoria Square.
Armstrong made some brief comments about his debut race, where sprinters rather than a rider of his characteristics are more likely to battle for the overall classification. "I don't have any illusions of grandeur," he said. "I hope I get in the race and get re-acclimated to the tempo and the speed and what it is like to be around 200 guys in a fast-moving group."
The arrival of the other Tour champion, Oscar Pereiro, was barely given a mention in the Australian press. The Spaniard is competing in his first race since his horrific tumble down a steep embankment in the 2008 Tour de France left him with a broken arm which required surgery. "We're not expecting too much from Pereiro in South Australia," team manager Neil Stephens told The Australian last month. "Just having him back on the bike in such a short time is fantastic news."
Pereiro was awarded the victory in the 2006 Tour after Floyd Landis was disqualified for doping.
Stephens commented on the presence of Armstrong in this year's event to ABC News. "He's a hero. I reckon he's fantastic but he's another competitor," he said. "Once we get on the start line, you've got to admire Lance for what he's done. He's a fantastic character; fantastic sportsman; but once the flag drops he's just another rider."