Lance Armstrong message goes on tour
Seven-times winner of the Tour de France plans to promote cancer charity with another victory in 2009
The Seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong revealed key details of his planned 2009 comeback yesterday. As ambitious as ever, Armstrong has confirmed that he intends to win the Tour in order to turn his Livestrong Global Cancer Initiative from a national to a worldwide campaign.
Introduced by former president Bill Clinton – whose charity, the Clinton Global Initiative, hosted the Armstrong press conference – the Texan said: "I cannot guarantee you an eighth Tour victory but I can guarantee you that the Livestrong message will touch all aspects of our society.
"It's not very often someone gets a chance to spend three or four years away from something, step back, and then say to themselves 'I sort of miss that, I'd like to go back and do that again'."
Last seen in action at a road-race when he crossed the line victorious in Paris in 2005, Armstrong refused to rule out racing beyond 2009, adding: "It's open-ended. I will take it season by season."
Using cycling as means of raising awareness about cancer is a familiar rallying cry from Armstrong, who first defied doubters back in 1999 when he won the Tour as a survivor of the illness. Armstrong's aim, then as now, was to send a message of hope to cancer sufferers, as well as to raise money to fight the disease.
As the president of cycling's governing body, the UCI's Pat McQuaid put it: "He's taken it as far as it can go in the United States and wishes to broaden its appeal even further. That's why he'll be racing across the four points of the globe."
What has raised more than a few eyebrows is the team Armstrong will be representing: the Kazakh squad Astana. The squad has a murky not-so-distant past – in 2007 several of its riders tested positive.
But even if team officials can justifiably claim the squad has made major efforts to move on since then, Armstrong's decision to ride for Astana still throws up another thorny issue: he will be team-mates with the world's current leading stage-race rider, Spaniard Alberto Contador.
Just 25-years-old, Contador is definitely on the up. He recently became the first rider in three decades to take all three major Tours (Italy, France and Spain) when he won his home race last week. A likeable character with the colourful nickname of the "Pistol-shooter from Pinto" – his hometown outside Madrid – Contador fired off a salvo of comments on Tuesday, saying it will be "very difficult for me and Lance to ride together. Decisions could be taken in his favour that would damage my chances. I'm not going to do anything less than ride to win."
Kazakh cycling federation deputy Nikolai Proskurin said: "If people say that they want to join this team, it's a sign that they must hold Kazakhstan in great regard." Whilst Armstrong's opinions on the Central Asian republic have yet to be published, what probably clinched the deal for Armstrong that the Texan's former team-manager during his run of seven Tour wins, Johan Bruyneel, now runs Astana.
In the past the quickest way to antagonise Bruyneel and Armstrong was to question the Texan's performance. In 2005, French newspaper L'Equipe printed unproven claims that Armstrong had tested positive for the banned drug EPO in 1999 – which the American strongly denied.
However, all that – at least for Armstrong – is apparently forgotten. The Texan has now said that the people he once described as "sceptics and zealots" will be welcome to ask all the questions they want.
On top of that, Armstrong says he will use an independent anti-doping expert, American Don Caitlin, to prove there is no room for doubt. "Beyond today, I'm not going to tell you how clean I am. I will ride my bike around the world and Don Caitlin will tell you how clean I am."
Cycling team doctors have almost unanimously agreed that at 37, Armstrong will be strong enough to participate in the Tour. That he will win, though, can no longer – as it used to be during his seven-year domination – be taken for granted.