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Armstrong plays down Tour chances

By Laura Weislo

Lance Armstrong officially heralded his return to cycling with the Astana team on Wednesday during the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City. Armstrong reiterated that he is coming back to the sport to help further his foundation's Global Cancer Initiative. After his initial announcement, where he said he would try to win his eighth Tour de France, Armstrong was decidedly low-key about his chances of succeeding.

"I've been off the bike for three years and next summer it will be almost four years. With that is also the fact that I'll be almost 38 years old at the start of the 2009 Tour, so I don't know," he said about his chances. "I will try and be as prepared as possible. I don't know if that equals victory."

Sharing the stage with world leaders, former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Armstrong outlined the need to have countries around the world devoting more resources to cancer treatment and prevention. He said that he decided to make a comeback after the Lance Armstrong Foundation's research revealed the scope of the cancer problem, and solidified his plans only after racing in the Leadville 100 in Colorado in early August.

"Cancer kills eight million people per year. That's 22,000 per day - more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. We felt that by racing the bike all over the world, beginning in Australia, ending in France, it's the best way to promote this initiative," Armstrong said. He confirmed that he would commence his season at the Tour Down Under in Australia and plans to race the Tour de France and return to the Leadville 100.

Armstrong also confirmed that he would re-join his former boss Johan Bruyneel at the Astana team. "We looked at other teams and talked to other teams, but as a friend and a partner with Bruyneel, I couldn't imagine racing against him or without him."

His return to the squad reportedly caused some conflict within the team, as Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour de France, 2008 Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España champion, was reluctant to give up the role of team leader. Armstrong played down his previously stated ambitions to win an eighth Tour de France, and said his main priority is this global campaign.

"I think there's room for all of us on that team," Armstrong said. "As he just proved at the Vuelta, Alberto is the best rider on the planet right now. We have to respect that. I'm not sure I can ride that fast anymore," Armstrong quipped. "I hope it works out. If he has other offers and he wants to go somewhere else or go to a Spanish team, perhaps, that's his decision, but I would encourage him to give this situation an opportunity and I would look forward to racing with him."

TdU, TdF and Leadville

Armstrong did not expand on his racing programme, but said that his participation in any race would be tied to that country's cancer initiatives. "The itinerary has to fit into the itinerary of preparing for the tour," Armstrong explained. "I don't think we would go somewhere if they weren't actively involved in trying to make a difference in their country with regards to this disease."

He hinted that he would like to race in the Tour of Italy. "I would love to do the Giro, it's the 100th anniversary [next year], and it's a significant event," he said, adding that he could use his participation to encourage Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to implement more cancer programmes. Team Astana said in a statement Wednesday that Bruyneel and Armstrong will meet in the next few weeks to discuss his 2009 schedule in detail.

Behind Armstrong during the conference was anti-doping expert Dr. Don Catlin, M.D, the founder of the UCLA anti-doping laboratory and now CEO of Anti-Doping Research, Inc. Armstrong announced that he would subject himself to "the most advanced anti-doping programme in the world" under Catlin, and that he would make himself available for testing "whenever and wherever" in order to validate his performances.

"Beyond today, I'm not going to tell you how clean I am and I'm not going to insinuate how dirty the others are, I'm going to ride my bike and I'm going to spread this message around the world and Don Catlin can tell you if I am clean or not," he said.

"I don't know if I can perform well," Armstrong said, "but on the off chance I can perform well, Don Catlin will be impartial administrator of the anti-doping testing."

Astana has previously used the services of Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard for its anti-doping testing. Team spokesman Philippe Maertens confirmed to Cyclingnews that the team would continue to use Damsgaard for the rest of the team, but that Armstrong's testing would be in addition to the squad's testing regime as well as the UCI's biological passport programme.

Armstrong revealed that he would make all of his test data available to the public.

"I've made myself completely available to everybody - whatever he gets, it will appear online and you can all analyse it."

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.