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By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong’s comeback might not include the 2009 Tour de France, at least that’s what the seven-time Tour winner is hinting at this week.
Armstrong confirmed Monday that the Giro d’Italia will be part of his 2009 racing schedule and told Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that the May grand tour could be his major goal for next season.
“I don’t have any experience with the Giro, but if I go it will be to win,” Armstrong told La Gazzetta. “Maybe it would be the only three-week race I would start in 2009, because right now, there are a lot of doubts about the Tour.”
Armstrong, 37, shocked the cycling world when he announced last month he would return to competitive racing. The Texan retired in 2005 after winning his seventh consecutive Tour crown, but the competitive juices got flowing again this summer when he raced to second in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race.
So far, Armstrong has confirmed he will race at the Tour Down Under in January, the Tour of California in February, Paris-Nice in March and the Giro in May.
Whether he continues to start the Tour depends on several factors.
First, a key decision will be whether or not the Tour organizers would want to see him in the start line in Monaco next July. Astana, the team run by ex-Discovery Channel director Johan Bruyneel, was barred from this year’s Tour for doping scandals involving the team last year.
There’s no love loss between Armstrong and the French organizers, something Armstrong admitted.
“Before I announced my return, I contacted the organizers, but they didn’t respond,” he said. “Is it possible they wouldn’t invite me to the Tour? Anything is possible, but it would be incredible. I want to be in Paris, but in a serene situation.”
Armstrong says his top motivation to return to competitive cycling is to bring his cancer-fighting message to an international audience.
He said he wouldn’t want the controversies from his sometimes-confrontational past with Tour officials and journalists to interfere with his intentions of raising awareness about cancer.
“I’m more effective getting out the message about cancer on the bike,” he said. “Everyone knows the importance of the Tour, but with the problems I’ve had with organizers, with journalists, with fans, it could distract from my mission to focus world attention on the fight against cancer.”
Secondly, Armstrong won’t to go to the Tour if he’s not in fit enough shape to at least make a strong showing.
“I still believe I can be competitive. I watched the Tour this July and the desire come back,” he explained. “The final decision came in August, on the day I came second in the (Leadville 100). I had the answers I was looking for.”
Anything less than victory he risks not only tarnishing his stellar Tour reputation as well as giving fodder to skeptics who would pounce on a weak Armstrong ride, especially one that is run under a strict, anti-doping program as Armstrong is planning with Don Catlin.
“If I am tested every day, it’s impossible to cheat. If I am fast in the time trials as before and I can climb in the mountains as well as three years ago, the discussion should end there,” he said. “But I am sure there will always be a doubt, ‘okay in 2009, Lance was clean, but in the past?’”
And finally, if Armstrong skips the Tour, he avoids a potentially nasty fight with Astana team leader and 2007 Tour champion Alberto Contador.
Armstrong also confirmed speculation that he might be considering a career in public life after his finally hangs up the bike for good, mentioning that he might run for the governor of Texas.
“Maybe in 2014. It’s something on my mind, but it’s a job as hard as sacrificing on the bike,” he said. “Whatever the case, my family will be decisive in making the decision.”
Vuelta a España officials wasted no time in pressing its case if Armstrong decides to skip the Tour, issuing an open invitation to the Texan: “Armstrong knows he’s welcome to race the Vuelta whenever he wants.”
Maybe Armstrong could pull a “Contador,” and win the Giro and Vuelta in the same year and become the newest member of the grand tour “triple crown” club.