It seems Lance Armstrong will meet the Gila Monster after all.
The seven-time Tour de France winner and two Astana teammates will race the SRAM Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico, after USA Cycling and the UCI negotiated a compromise over the international governing body’s rules regarding UCI Pro riders’ participation in national events.
The nature of that compromise is unclear. According to Andy Lee, communications director for USA Cycling, “the UCI interpreted one of their rules in a way that ultimately allowed Lance as well as two other Astana riders to compete.” A UCI spokesman, meanwhile, told Agence France Presse that the international governing body notified American officials about a loophole within their own rules.
“It was actually the UCI who told USA Cycling about the existence of a rule within their own regulations, which allows three riders from the same professional team to compete wearing neutral jerseys,” the spokesman said. “USA Cycling were unaware of this.”
According to Lee, UCI rule 2.8.003 permits a maximum of three riders from a UCI Pro team to enter national-calendar races as individuals, but bars them from competing in their pro-team kit.
The compromise also affects BMC, a Continental Pro team subject to the UCI’s restrictions. As a consequence, team manager Gavin Chilcott said his squad, “per se, is not participating in the Tour of the Gila.” Five of his riders are leaving Silver City, and while three will remain to compete — Scott Nydam, Florian Stalder and Chad Beyer — “they are not entered as a team and they will not be allowed to wear team uniforms,” Chilcott said.
Armstrong, who will return to racing for the first time since breaking his collarbone in Spain’s Vuelta a Castilla y León last month, said he was eager to get back in the game.
“I’m excited to get back to competitive racing. The recovery training has been going well but nothing compares to getting back into the bunch and racing,” he said.
Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner — who is also coming off the disabled list after cracking a collarbone and rib in the Vuelta al País Vasco — will join Armstrong in Silver City, reportedly racing under the auspices of “Mellow Johnny’s,” the name of Armstrong’s bike shop in Austin, Texas.
“Lance and I are psyched to race the Gila,” said Leipheimer. “It’s great preparation for Europe, and we know this race will be challenging. There is a hell of a lot of uphill.”
Horner should be pleased, too. On Monday, he was critical of the UCI rule originally used to exclude Astana from the Gila, calling it “wrong.”
“It’s a pro race, you should be allowed to race your bike,” he said. “If we are skipping ProTour races to do a non-ProTour event, then it makes sense. But you should never, never, never just not allow a rider to race his bike. … Every man should be afforded the right to work.”
—VeloNews senior web editor Charles Pelkey and Agence France Presse contributed to this report.