Tour organisers brace for the Lance Armstrong show
Tour Down Under organisers are confident the Lance Armstrong’s comeback won’t turn their cycle race into a circus.
Armstrong has confirmed he plans to launch his eagerly-awaited return from retirement in South Australia’s 800km, six-stage cycling race in January as he prepares for another crack at the Tour de France in July.
However, the American legend stopped short of promising he could deliver an eighth Tour de France title.
“I don’t know, honestly. I’ve been off the bike for three years,” said Armstrong in a US press conference.
“I’ll be nearly 38-years-old — so I honestly don’t know if it will be possible.
“I will try to be as prepared as possible. I don’t know if that equals victory. I have a fair bit of confidence, but not that kind of confidence.”
Armstrong says he’s using his comeback to promote the fight against cancer worldwide after famously recovering from the disease to win his record seven Tour de France titles from 1999.
The SA government has touted his apperance as making the 2009 Tour Down Under the biggest sporting event in the state’s history, with the worldwide attention it’s sure to receive.
Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur said some aspects of the race, like security, would need to be “tweaked”. Armstrong was also likely to bring his own entourage of minders and support staff.
But Turtur didn’t want all the attention to hamper the relaxed atmosphere that has been a key feature of the event.
“The fact that the punters can get up close with the riders has been one of the great strengths of this race,” he said.
“Obviously the interest around Armstrong is great, but there will be other great quality riders in the race too who will want to win the event,” he said.
“Once the race hits the open road, there will be a completely different focus.”
As well as competing in Adelaide, Armstrong will also race in the US and in Europe, culminating with his bid for an unprecedented eighth Tour de France in July.
Armstrong will ride for free for the Kazakhstan-based Astana team, now run by his long-time mentor Johan Bruyneel and the man who led the US Postal and Discovery Channel outfits during all of his tour wins.
Because of his friendship with Bruyneel, Astana was always Armstrong’s likely destination.
“While we looked at other teams and we talked with other teams, as a friend and as a partner and as someone, I can really trust Johan on every little decision,” he said.
“I could not imagine racing against him or without him.”
That could give rise to tensions within the team which is currently based around Spaniard Alberto Contador, who won the Tour de France in 2007 and this year was victorious in the grand tours of Italy and Spain.
Astana management said Armstrong and Contador would be joint leaders although Contador expressed some concerns with how that would work.
“I’ve earned the right to be the leader of a team without having to fight for my place,” he told the Spanish press.
“And with Armstrong, some difficult situations could arise in which the team would put him first and that would hurt me.”
But the American said he looked forward to racing with the 27-year-old.
“Alberto is the best rider on the planet right now,” he said.
“We have to understand that and have to respect that. I’m not sure I can ride that fast right now,” he said. “I hope it works out.”© AAP 2013