Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Cycling [Print without images]

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Armstrong could race in '09 Tour if he feels 'welcome'

Associated Press

PARIS -- Lance Armstrong could still race in the 2009 Tour de France, as long as 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 d'Italia for the first time in 2009, expressed doubts last week over whether he would try for another Tour title because of the problems he might encounter with "the organizers, journalists and fans."

Bruyneel said the organizers' stance must soften somewhat for Armstrong to come back.

"At the end of the day, I always go to a party I'm invited to," Bruyneel said in an interview at a hotel in Paris ahead of Wednesday's unveiling of the 2009 Tour route.

The 37-year-old Armstrong is returning to cycling after a three-year 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 to 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 year's 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 it's in the interests of everybody that that controversy goes away."

Bruyneel said Armstrong has nothing to prove by gunning for an eighth Tour win.

"One thing has to be sure, clear. Lance does not need to win an eighth Tour de France, that stands above everything," Bruyneel said. "Of course, if he is making a comeback he would like to compete at the highest level. But he can do without it."

Bruyneel said Astana's training program starts in December in Tenerife, Spain, and Armstrong is for now only certain to race in the Jan. 20-25 Tour Down Under in Australia, the Tour of California and the Giro d'Italia.

"There has been a strong interest from the Giro to have Lance in the race," Bruyneel said. "Normally he would do a program of racing to get ready for the Giro and some recon in the mountains because he never did the Giro."

Since his retirement, Armstrong has kept in shape running marathons and more recently mountain bike racing. Bruyneel is surprised by Armstrong's physical shape.

"If we compare his condition now in the month of October compared to the years he was preparing the Tour ... he is a little bit better, because he was out of shape on the 20th of October in those years," Bruyneel said, laughing. "It all depends on how he can do that extra few percent."

Whichever race Armstrong enters -- the Giro, the Tour or both -- Bruyneel would not rule out another win.

"I think if he's determined about a comeback it's because he thinks there is possibilities at the very highest level," Bruyneel said. "We don't know exactly how high that can be, but I think he can be competitive."