Armstrong to race in 2009 Tour de France, even in support role

Jim Vertuno
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AUSTIN, Texas Lance Armstrong will ride in the 2009 Tour de France, marking the first time he will compete in that race and the Giro dItalia in the same year.

Im committed to riding for the best guy, Armstrong said Monday, acknowledging the taxing schedule could leave him riding in a supporting role in France.

The Giro runs May 9-31, and the Tour begins July 4.

With such a quick turnaround between two gruelling races, the seven-time Tour champion acknowledged his body might not perform at the same level it did when he won his last Tour in 2005.

If youve been away for three or four years, it would be silly for anybody to think I could pick up where I left off, Armstrong told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Tenerife in the Canary Islands where Astana is training. I can tell you I feel better than ever, I feel stronger than ever on Dec. 1. How that translates to racing, well have to see. Mentally, in terms of motivation, this feels like 1998-1999 to me.

Armstrongs decision to ride gives the powerhouse Astana team a superstar lineup in France, including 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador. He missed last years race because Astana was barred from riding for previous doping violations. Also riding with Astana is Germanys Andreas Kloeden, American veteran Levi Leipheimer and top support rider Yaroslav Popovych. Astana is considered by far the strongest multi-stage team.

Well abide by the same code that I do: cycling is team sport, while wed all like to win, he said.

The 37-year-old stunned the cycling world in September, when he announced he was ending his three-year retirement. He said then his goal was to race in the Tour but stopped short of a guarantee.

Reached by telephone, French anti-doping agency chief Pierre Bordry would not comment on Armstrongs decision but did say he will be treated like everyone else when it comes to drug testing.

In recent interviews, Armstrong revealed worries about his personal safety while riding in the open roads of France and through the throngs of fans that pack the route.

The Tour has its own police force to guard each stage and ensure safety, and French police paid particular attention to Armstrongs safety when he was riding. In recent years, organizers have taken additional steps to protect riders.

Armstrong dismissed any potential threats Monday: Its not going to keep me from going and doing my job, and its not going to keep me from spreading my message.

He has dedicated his comeback to raising awareness for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and his global fight against cancer.

Organizations: The Associated Press, Lance Armstrong Foundation

Geographic location: France, AUSTIN, Canary Islands

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