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Armstrong: ‘No guarantees’ to win Tour again

Lance Armstrong says his return to the top spot of the winner’s podium at the Tour de France is no guarantee. The seven-time Tour champion is confident he will attain a high level come July, but admitted he cannot take for granted he will be the same rider who won barnstormed to seven consecutive titles from 1999-2005.

By Andrew Hood

Lance Armstrong says his return to the top spot of the winner’s podium at the Tour de France is no guarantee.

The seven-time Tour champion is confident he will attain a high level come July, but admitted he cannot take for granted he will be the same rider who won barnstormed to seven consecutive titles from 1999-2005.

“It’s hard to say. In the past, I was always riding to win. We’re not there yet. Frankly, I don’t know if I will get back there,” he said Friday in a press conference. “This experiment, if you want to call it that, has never been attempted before. Would I like to be? Yes, I’d like to be competitive.”

At 37, and after more than three years away from competitive cycling, Armstrong cannot count on winning as dominantly as he did during his previous reign.

“There are no guarantees. Before, there were question marks each year, whether I was early or late in condition. The question mark is a bigger one now,” he continued. “We have nothing to compare it to. No one’s ever come back from nearly four years and won again, no one who’s almost 38 has done this before.”

The 37-year-old Armstrong is entering an important phase of his comeback calendar.

He’s racing in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, his first race back in Europe since retiring in 2005. More important will be the five-day Castilla y León tour, starting Monday in northern Spain.

The Spanish tour delivers a stronger field and a tougher course, with two mountain stages and a longer individual time trial, than what he saw at the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California.

“The dynamic is different racing in Australia and America. Tomorrow will be a good indication, next week will be a good indication,” he said. “We’ll know better if there are certain things we need to adjust to. I don’t wake up every day full of doubt. If I did, I wouldn’t do it. I still wake up feeling pretty good. As long as that happens, I will keep going.”

Armstrong is clearly enjoying being back on the bike. He completed a 10-day training block, returning to this former European base in Nice, France, where he was based before being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996.

“I just spent 10 days riding in the south of France, where I spent most of my career, training on the same roads I did years ago. It gave me the ability to reflect and ask myself the question whether or not these felt the same,” he said. “They do feel the same, if not a little more fun, even better. I feel like I am doing the right thing and I am having a good time. I feel like I am getting stronger.”

Armstrong also promises he won’t be racing the Giro just to be there.

“When I show up in May, I won’t be here to eat pasta and gelato and go home. I want to be competitive,” he said. “The Giro is important for me for the main reason that I’ve never done it, never experienced it. It’s one of the monuments of cycling.”

“I feel like I have a long personal history with this country, with the people that have raced here, the people within the sport,” he said. “I want to respect that relationship.”

He said the Tour isn’t necessarily more important than the Giro.

“You cannot deny the statue of the Tour and the relationship she and I had for seven years,” he said. “I want to be strong and competitive in both, not one above the other. I want to be close to the top of my game in both of them.”

Here’s what Armstrong had to say on other topics:

On doping controls

“When I came back, I fully understood that would be a major part of my life. Am I nervous? No. You’re nervous if you’re trying to hide something. I’m not trying to hide something, so I am not nervous. It’s sometimes inconvenient, like when you finish a training ride and you’re playing with your kids. I’ve had 23 out-of-competition controls so far, that’s quite a bit more than anyone else. From the people I know and I’ve talked to at the races, they’ve had five or 10. You start to feel a little bit targeted, but, hey, when you win the Tour de France seven times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I hope it says a lot and I will continue to do it. A lot was made of the hair test the other day. Other than the bad haircut, it wasn’t much of a problem.”

On racing alongside Filippo Simeoni in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo

“For me, there’s no issue with him personally. It’s always been an issue of the press. I know that we have to build those internal conflicts and rivalries within the sport. I’ve always been very clear that I have no problem with him personally. This is an old story. I have no interest in discussing again; end of story, end of discussion.”

On perceived criticism of teammate Alberto Contador

“I didn’t mean it as a criticism, per se. I have a ton of respect for Alberto. He’s the best rider for stage races in cycling. No one is better, myself included. I’ve been in that position, too. There’s always something we can learn. People criticized me. Merckx criticized the way I was racing, so I called him and asked him what I could learn. There are a lot of people from within the team that he can learn from. The press room wants to build up the rivalry within the team, that’s not accurate. … I like Alberto, he’s on our team. It’s my job to try to help him.”

On whether he wants to win something before Tour

“I’d like to win something, for sure. We all like that taste and feeling, but you cannot force it. We’ll see. What’s more important is to show some improvement in the time trial, at least some improvements over what we saw in California. I don’t need to win, but I’d like to get a little taste of it. My local race in Austin doesn’t count. You gotta be patient, and follow the racing. If you’re fit enough, you’ll get it.”

On how cycling has changed since retirement

“There have been certain things I’ve had to adjust to, like not knowing who certain people are. At Australia, I didn’t know who 50 percent of those riders were. In the past, I knew all of them, if they could climb, their weaknesses, I knew everything. Now I am finding myself asking the other guys, asking Johan more. Cycling is exciting right now. Paris-Nice was one of the most exciting races we’ve seen in a long time.”