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Lance Armstrong's return to Alpe d'Huez and the Tour de France was hardly likely to pass unnoticed, and even less so after the American's jokey comments about the French football team at an awards ceremony last week whipped the French press into a frenzy of indignation. After riding up the Alpe on Monday, Armstrong tried to play down the fuss created by his comments, telling the press: "I love France, I love the French, and I love the culture of this country."
Speaking at an invitation-only press conference to which procycling was lucky enough to get a pass, Armstrong said he didn't regret what he'd said. "I only regret that the context of the programme hasn't been correctly reported in Europe," he said. Armstrong's comments had been made as he hosted the ESPY sports awards in Los Angeles, where he also made a number of cracks at his own expense.
"I must made done 10 or 12 humorous comments. I made jokes about myself and about France. People love jokes about France. A French paper had a headline on it saying 'Welcome to France, asshole', and I loved that," said Armstrong, who said at the ESPY event that "the French football team have tested positive. for being assholes".
That fuss aside, Armstrong said he was hoping former team-mate Floyd Landis would keep the yellow jersey in American hands - "it would be very good for US cycling" - and affirmed that he would not be having any dealings with the Tour organisation during his spell on the race.
"I would love to have good relations with them, but it's very complicated," Armstrong explained. "But I don't think it's possible. Even though I still love the Tour, I love the event, the men involved [with running it] are another problem."
Later in the evening, a relaxed-looking Armstrong and Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal joined the clubbers, including procycling's editorial team, at the Igloo, an establishment the American would certainly not have visited on his previous Tour-related visits to the resort.
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