American Lance Armstrong could still race in 2009 Tour de France

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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PARIS Lance Armstrong could still race in next years Tour de France, as long as the race organizers make him feel welcome, Astana team director Johan Bruyneel said Tuesday.

For the moment, we are going to determine his program based on where he is really welcome and invited . . . and we will see about the rest, Bruyneel told The Associated Press. So the main thing is that he is definitely not excluding riding in the Tour, but it would have to be in an atmosphere that is serene and respectful.

The seven-time Tour champion, who is scheduled to race the Giro dItalia for the first time in 2009, expressed doubts last week over whether he would try for another Tour title because of the problems he may encounter with the organizers, journalists and fans.

Bruyneel said the stance of organizers ASO would have to soften somewhat for Armstrong to come back.

At the end of the day, I always go to a party Im invited to, Bruyneel said in an interview at a hotel in Paris ahead of Wednesdays unveiling of the 2009 Tour route.

The 37-year-old Armstrong is returning to cycling after three years in retirement, and he wants to draw more attention to his global campaign to fight cancer, a disease he survived before winning seven straight Tours from 1999-2005.

Armstrong has feuded for years with Tour officials over drug-testing issues, but Tour director Christian Prudhomme has said he and the Astana team will be allowed to race next year as long as they avoid doping problems. Astana was banned from this years Tour.

Bruyneel, who helped guide Armstrong on each of his seven Tour wins, said Prudhomme should have been more welcoming.

Prudhomme said immediately that Lance would be welcome ... but there was always a but, Bruyneel said. (Prudhomme said Armstrong) will have to comply with all the tests and regulations. That is definitely something that was not necessary to say. They (ASO) create that controversy, and ultimately its in the interests of everybody that that controversy goes away.

Armstrong retired after his seventh Tour win in 2005, and a month later French sports daily LEquipe, which is owned by ASO, reported that Armstrongs B samples from the 1999 Tour contained EPO, a blood-boosting hormone that enhances endurance.

Armstrong, who has always denied doping, said at the time that he was the victim of a witch hunt and a Dutch lawyer appointed by the International Cycling Union later cleared him.

Organizations: The Associated Press, International Cycling Union

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