Lance Armstrong played down any rumours of internal strife in his new cycling team Astana, during a press conference on the Canary Island of Tenerife Thursday afternoon.
On his comeback from retirement, Armstrong joined the Astana team of Spaniard Alberto Contador, who recently became the fifth cyclist in history to secure victories in all three major Tours winning the 2007 Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia and Tour of Spain in 2008.
Despite rumours of internal competition and strife – it was recently reported that Contador was unhappy at his possible status being upset – the American was keen to show, at least, that Astana is one big happy family.
The 37-year-old suggested he would be happy to race as the team’s second or third-in command if circumstances demanded it.
“I’ve been around longer been racing professionally since 1992, when Alberto was, what, ten,” Armstrong said in a teleconference from Tenerife in Spain where he is training with Astana. “I think Alberto has obviously a tremendous amount of natural talent, and can read a race.
“I came into this completely open, loyal to Alberto, the team and the unwritten laws of cycling,” he added. “I have a lot of respect for this man. I can’t say it any simpler. This guy is the best cyclist in the world. I came here (Astana) as a volunteer. I’m racing and training every day for free. If my global initiative is successful and I finish second, eighth or ninth on the Tour, then that’s fine by me.”
But when asked whether he would be able to win the Tour de France again, Armstrong said: “I don’t know. I knew how to win it before. It’s been too long out of competition and testing myself against the others. If the Tour is today I don’t have the power to win. I am content with seven Tours, if there’s an eighth on the line, I’m not going to refuse it.”
Asked whether his comeback would end next year, the American said he was still unsure but indicated, “it could be one or two years.”
“I don’t know; we’ll just have to see,” he added. “That’s why I wanted to start racing early, at the Tour Down Under (in January).”
He admitted his decision to return to top level competition was motivated by two things: his passion for bike racing, and his determination to take the fight against cancer truly global.
“I have a passion for bike racing and training and I’ve rediscovered that passion,” he said. “Secondly, I feel that I can give impetus to the fight against cancer by racing. My (Livestrong) foundation is in negotiations with 20 countries – some (of which) we’ll race in, some we won’t. The issue is not solved by me racing a bike. You also have to have governments taking action.
“If we can convince them to invest in health care, just as they invest in other infrastructures, then that will be a positive step,” Armstrong added. “No doubt being on the bike, racing competitively brings attention to the issue rather than me sitting at home racing marathons. I still feel I can be strong on the bike.”
Doping rumours continue to haunt him
Armstrong also hit back at allegations of doping, which appeared to reach a high after his seventh consecutive victory in 2005 when a newspaper report said urine samples attributed to him from the 1999 Tour had tested positive, retroactively, for the banned blood booster EPO.
An International Cycling Union (UCI) hearing headed by a Dutch lawyer later cleared the American of any wrong-doing.
“I’ve heard every conspiracy theory known to man,” said Armstrong. “I maintain I’ve never doped in my life. I fully co-operated with the (UCI) investigation which cleared me. There’s not much else I can do.”
Armstrong also praised his ex-wife for backing his comeback.
“In 2005 I was tired mentally and ready to stop,” he said. “I didn’t imagine I’d come back. I have three young children and this job takes me away from home – myself, my ex-wife and my three kids. If she would have said no I wouldn’t have done it. Thank God for her and that decision and that support. I’ll spend most of my time in the US.
“I’ve been training in gym twice a week, now I’m almost 100 percent on the bike, continue to do core work but everything with the gym is basically done and now it’s 100 percent cycling,” he added.