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Indurain: ‘Armstrong will have to work hard’

Miguel Indurain doesn’t doubt that Lance Armstrong will be able to return to a high level in his comeback in 2009. But the five-time Tour de France champion wonders if Armstrong will be able to win the Tour again after being away from competition for more than three years. “I’m sure he will be able to return to competition, but to win again is something else,” Indurain said on Spanish television TVE. “It’s a lot of time, but he’s maintained his fitness. Above all, he’s a professional. The question is whether he can return to his same level.”

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By Andrew Hood

Miguel Indurain doesn’t doubt that Lance Armstrong will be able to return to a high level in his comeback in 2009.

But the five-time Tour de France champion wonders if Armstrong will be able to win the Tour again after being away from competition for more than three years.

“I’m sure he will be able to return to competition, but to win again is something else,” Indurain said on Spanish television TVE. “It’s a lot of time, but he’s maintained his fitness. Above all, he’s a professional. The question is whether he can return to his same level.”

Armstrong, who turns 37 on Thursday, shocked the cycling world last week when he confirmed reports in VeloNews that he would return to competition in the 2009 season.

Armstrong has scheduled a press conference September 24 to outline his comeback plans in more detail.

In the meantime, his confirmation of a comeback continues to churn through the European peloton.

On Wednesday, Indurain spoke publicly for the first time about Armstrong’s plans.

“Americans have another mentality. He’s a Texan and he’s a strong character. He’s been training, competing in marathons and mountain bike races, and I know that he’s good level,” Indurain said. “It’s a challenge to try to do comeback, but to win again, he’s really going to have to train a lot and really work hard to regain the level he had.”

The 44-year-old Indurain was the first rider to win five Tours in a row, but Armstrong eclipsed him by winning seven in a row.

Indurain retired in 1996 after failing to win a sixth Tour crown. Bjarne Riis won that year’s Tour, but he later admitted to taking EPO and other banned substances to win the Tour.

Indurain, meanwhile, went on to win the gold medal in the individual time trial at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and reluctantly raced the 1996 Vuelta a España under pressure from sponsor Banesto.

Indurain later abandoned the Vuelta on a climbing stage to Lagos de Covadonga and confirmed his retirement in January, 1997.

Big Mig insists he’s very happy in retirement.

“I saw some rumors that I was going to come back, but those are false. I never had the intention to return,” he said. “I ride a few times a week to stay in shape, not a lot more. When I decided to leave it, I never occurred to me to comeback.”