Tour Down Under: Armstrong set for ride into sunset

ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Lance Armstrong says he will not be expecting a ticker-tape farewell ahead of his latest swansong at the Tour Down Under this week. Related: 2011 Tour Down Under stage descriptions | Anthony Tan TDU preview | Graham Watson 2010 TDU…

ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Lance Armstrong says he will not be expecting a ticker-tape farewell ahead of his latest swansong at the Tour Down Under this week.

Australia’s premier cycling event has been steadily gathering in stature and Armstrong’s presence gives the Adelaide-based race, which begins with a hectic criterium on Sunday, an extra boost.

After years of courting almost as much controversy as he did success on seven golden years on the Tour de France, it will be the American’s final international cycling event.

2011 Tour Down Under: Lance Armstrong and team training
Armstrong and crew hit a small hill while training in Australia this week. Photo: Graham Watson

Cancer survivor Armstrong retired in 2005, only to return to cycling three-and-a-half years later ahead of what became a futile bid for an eighth yellow jersey.

Having finished an impressive third overall on the Tour de France in 2009, the 2010 edition proved a step too far for the now 39-year-old, who collapsed spectacularly on the first day in the high mountains.

There is no question of Armstrong aiming for victory this week, never mind success in one of the six stages that will be coveted by a strong sprint field. Indeed, organisers may be wondering how much of a starring role Armstrong will play.

As retirement looms, he remains the subject of a federal investigation, launched in the wake of arguably the most serious doping allegations — levelled by former teammate Floyd Landis — to blight his stunning career.

Armstrong has never tested positive, and despite being accused by former teammates and employees of having cheated his way to success, he believes his successful Tour de France winning formula will prove his biggest legacy.

“I won the Tour de France seven times and I think I won it because we changed the way people in cycling do business,” Armstrong said earlier this week.

“And I’m not going to dance around the fact there has been plenty of questions about that but the reality is we came with a whole new approach to the sport.

“We revolutionised the way people train, the way they build morale in the team, the way they preview the courses, the way they race, the way they sell the sport, the way they tell that story around the world.”

Although scheduled to continue competing for his RadioShack team in mountain bike and triathlon events, Armstrong will not expect much fanfare when he does hang up his road bike.

“I leave knowing that I did my best and I don’t need somebody to give me a plaque or give me a statue. It has been very good to me on a lot of levels, it has been a good ride.”

2010 Tour Down Under
Greipel's HTC squad celebrates his TDU overall win in 2010. The team hopes to celebrate again this year, for a Cavendish win.

British sprint king Mark Cavendish will be the other big draw, the Isle of Man rider making his first appearance in the race for HTC-HighRoad.

As Armstrong finished 39 minutes behind Spain’s Alberto Contador on the 2010 Tour de France, Cavendish emerged with another bunch of stage victories to take his tally to a British record 15 from only four editions.

Overall victory in the Tour Down Under traditionally becomes an option for whoever seizes an early grip on the race, as Germany’s Andre Greipel — not a climbing specialist — has done on two occasions.

With only one real mountain stage, the sprinters’ teams usually manage to claw back escape groups, thus boosting the sprinters’ overall victory chances.

One or two riders, however, may look to break that curse including Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervelo), a strong all-rounder who hails from Adelaide.

Armstrong was quick to highlight Bobridge’s staying power on their respective debuts in 2009, and since then the Garmin-Cervelo team rider has been crowned Australian national champion.