By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong never rode la corsa rosa during his professional career, but he confirmed Monday he will race the 2009 Giro d’Italia as part of his comeback season.
Armstrong, 37, announced in a video posted on the webpage of the Italian sports daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport, he will be at the start of the centenary celebration of the Italian grand tour beginning May 9.
“I am so excited to be coming to the 2009 Giro d’Italia. I raced a long time professionally and I never did the Giro, it’s one of the biggest regret that I ever had,” Armstrong said. “Fortunately, I get to erase that regret and be at the 100th year anniversary, and who knows, maybe even get a good result.”
Since his stunning announcement in September that he would return to racing in 2009, Armstrong has hinted that he would like to race the Giro to get as many racing miles in his legs before a run at the Tour in 2009.
In a story posted on La Gazzetta’s web page Monday, Armstrong seemed to suggest that the Giro – and not the 2009 Tour – would be his main focus for his return to elite cycling after more than three years in retirement.
“Everybody says that the Giro will be the kick-off to the Tour while I know I could come to Italy to be a winner and that the Giro will be my true three-week stage race of the year,” Armstrong said.
If the Giro does indeed become Armstrong’s main focus, it will take tremendous pressure off his shoulders if he races the Tour as well as diffuse a potentially divisive split with Astana captain and 2007 Tour winner, Alberto Contador.
Contador has been supportive of Armstrong’s comeback efforts, but has suggested he would try to leave Astana if he’s not given guarantees he will ride as the team captain during the 2009 Tour.
The Giro never fit into Armstrong’s schedule, until now.
Before he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, Armstrong would typically return to the United States to race in the Tour du Pont in May, which conflicted with an appearance in the Giro.
By 1999, once Armstrong began his seven-year Tour dominance, he would rarely tamper with his successful winning template to steer toward the Giro or the Vuelta a España (which he last rode in 1998, finishing fourth).
Early in his career, Armstrong lived in Como in Italy’s northern Lake District before moving to Nice, France and then Girona, Spain.
Last week, Giro boss Angelo Zomegnan officially invited Armstrong to the Giro.
“First of all, once he decided to come back to professional cycling, Armstrong had to face the need to fill a gap. No cycling campionissimo’ ever allowed himself not to take part to the Giro d’Italia,” Zomegnan said. “Moreover, Lance is clearly the only one who could be able, after his victory in the Tour de France of the centennial, to hit the legendary double with the Giro d’Italia centennial edition.”
Details of the 2009 Giro route will be revealed at an official presentation in December.