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By Andrew Hood
Off-the-cuff comments last weekend by Lance Armstrong that he wants to take his comeback tour worldwide raised hopes in Australia that the seven-time Tour de France champion’s return to racing might start in January’s Tour Down Under.
Not so fast, matey.
Armstrong, who turned 37 on Thursday, said he hasn’t finalized his comeback plans yet and will make a full disclosure Wednesday in New York while attending the Clinton Global Initiative.
“I have no clear answer for you,” Armstrong said in an e-mail to Rupert Guinness at the Sydney Morning Herald. “My aim is to race all over where there are willing and supportive governments with regards to enacting cancer policy. Australia seemed like an obvious choice, but I have no plans [yet] to come.”
After winning the 12 Hours of Snowmass mountain bike race last weekend, comments to VeloNews’ Jason Sumner after the race raised hopes that Armstrong would race the Tour Down Under, the season’s first international race from Jan. 20-25.
“The most important issue is taking the global epidemic of cancer really to a much bigger stage. The best way to do that is to race the bike all over the world,” he told the media in Colorado. “So you race in Australia, South Africa, South America, Europe, America … that is the first priority.”
Several media outlets later reported that Armstrong was confirmed to start the Tour Down Under, but race director Mike Turtur said Thursday those reports are untrue.
“We’ve had no official word from the Armstrong camp. We, along with everyone else, are waiting for his announcement,” Turtur said. “We have contacted his management asking what their thoughts are. Their response was that they are going to discuss internally their program and will get back to us as soon as possible. There has been nothing more than that. There has been no commitment.”
In other news, the “Armstrong effect” is having more reverberations.
This time, with José Luis “Chechu” Rubiera reversing his decision to retire at the end of the Vuelta a España and race for one more year.
Rubiera was planning on ending his career and take a job using his engineering degree he completed in the early years of pro career, which began in 1995. After 20 grand tours, he was ready to turn the page.
That was until news came that Armstrong was on the comeback trail.
Rubiera, 37, told VeloNews last week he had an offer to race one more year following the surprising news that Armstrong would return in the 2009 season.
That’s something Rubiera, who rode alongside five of Armstrong’s seven Tour victories, didn’t want to miss.
“After 14 years as a professional, I thought that 2008 would be my last year, especially with my poor performances in 2007,” Rubiera said. “Lance’s comeback motivates me and I am feeling very strong physically, so I’ve decided to race one more year.”
Armstrong’s return to Astana has yet to be confirmed, however, but based on the comments from Rubiera, it seems all but likely that Astana will be Armstrong’s choice.
Astana made no mention of Armstrong’s return in its press release announcing the extension of Rubiera’s contract.
“I am very glad that Chechu decided to continue,” said team manager Johan Bruyneel. “Chechu proved this year that he is important for the Kazakh-sponsored team. In Murcia, he even won a stage. Chechu is not used. On the contrary, we need him as a team captain. His role is to guide the team on the road and share his experience with all the young riders on our team.”
So far, the line-up for 2009 includes: Alberto Contador, Assan Bazayev, Jani Brajkovic, Chris Horner, Maxim Iglinskiy, Roman Kireyev, Andreas Klöden, Berik Kupeshov, Levi Leipheimer, Steve Morabito, Dmitriy Muravyev, Daniel Navarro, Benjamín Noval, Sérgio Paulinho, Gregory Rast, José Luis Rubiera, Michael Schär, Tomas Vaitkus, Andrey Zeits and Haimar Zubeldia