Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has said it would be unrealistic to expect him to win his first race in three years in 2009’s Tour Down Under.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday 12 January 2009, the American cycling great, 37, declared he was in the best shape of his life for the start of a season as he prepared to return to professional racing.
Armstrong’s appearance in the Adelaide tour has generated huge international interest, enough for organisers to take extra security measures to protect him during the event.
Tour officials had tried to keep Armstrong’s arrival in Australia under wraps and then on Monday he was escorted to the press conference by police.
Armstrong said he was excited and looked forward to racing again. “I think it would be unrealistic to expect a victory,” he said. “The race has gotten harder and harder over the years. “I hope to be in the mix, I could be completely wrong. I might be the first guy dropped.”
But he claimed he was as serious as ever about the competition. “I’ve prepared much harder this series of months than I ever would have in the past,” he said. “The tests that we do on the bike, or on the road, or in the lab, indicate that my January fitness is much better than it ever was in the years when I was winning the Tour (de France). But that doesn’t mean anything until you get into the race.”
His decision to return to competitive cycling, he insisted, was influenced by his campaigning efforts for cancer awareness. ”For me, it’s not so much a sporting challenge, and it’s not a financial challenge, it’s not any of those things,” he said.
“I came back as a volunteer and so I’m here for the love of the bike and the passion of the cause.”
Armstrong has dedicated the Tour Down Under not only to his comeback but his anti-cancer fight through the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was formed in 1997, one year after Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
He successfully battled the cancer in 1996, retired from riding in 2005, but has dedicated his comeback to his ‘Livestrong’ cancer prevention campaign.
Armstrong will race with his Astana teammates for the first time on Sunday in the Down Under Classic criterium warm-up in Adelaide, and said he wanted to use the tour to re-adapt to racing after coming out of retirement.
“I just don’t want to get clobbered too bad. That’s my main motivation for training hard,” he said. “I don’t have any illusions of grandeur. I hope I get in the race and get re-acclimatised to the tempo and the speed and what it’s like to be around 200 guys in a fast-moving group, and we’ll see.”