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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Armstrong's surgery on Wednesday

By Bonnie D. Ford
ESPN.com

Lance Armstrong will undergo surgery early Wednesday morning for a fractured collarbone that is in "quite a few more pieces than we had originally thought," the seven-time Tour de France winner said Tuesday night.

But Armstrong added that he did not see any reason he won't be ready for the Tour de France in early July or his more immediate goal, the Tour of Italy, which starts May 9.

Armstrong
Armstrong

"I don't think it complicates things for the future any more than the initial opinion did," Armstrong told reporters on a conference call between rounds of tests and consultations in his home of Austin, Texas. "It's a very common cycling injury, so you hear of guys who have raced two weeks later, and guys who have raced two months later.

"In my opinion, I think the Giro [Tour of Italy] is still very doable. This is definitely a setback, no doubt. It's the biggest setback I've ever had in my cycling career, so it's a new experience for me. Fortunately, I've done a lot of offseason work that I think will help me through this. ... if you get injured with good form, it's a lot easier to come back because you're not starting from rock bottom."

Armstrong was about to undergo a CT scan to give Austin-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas Elenz a clearer idea of the state of the rider's right clavicle. Elenz, who will perform the surgery at his office, is part of a practice that treats University of Texas athletes and members of some professional football and baseball teams. He earned multiple All-America honors as a swimmer at the University of Texas from 1983-86, where his teammates included Armstrong's agent, Bill Stapleton.

The cyclist's spokesman Mark Higgins said the first diagnostic tests in Austin revealed that the fracture was angulated and comminuted, which means the bone is displaced -- no longer lined up as it should be -- and there is some splintering as opposed to a simple, clean break.

The outpatient surgery Armstrong is expected to have has become routine for cyclists with the injury: inserting a thin titanium plate to bridge the fractures, held in place with screws. Armstrong said he would have to rest completely for 72 hours. If all is well at that point, he could be cleared to ride on an indoor stationary bike. Riding on the road would come a couple of weeks later at the earliest.

Armstrong said the normal four- to six-week recovery period "sounds long."

"We'll know more in the next week," he said. "The sooner I can get on the bike, the quicker we'll know. ... Even if I went into the Giro underprepared and was riding it as preparation for other events, I'd still do it. I'd still be excited to go and do that."

The 37-year-old testicular cancer survivor, who is attempting to reach the top rungs of professional cycling after a three-year absence from the sport and promote cancer research and programs in the process, was caught in a pileup near the end of Stage 1 of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon five-day race in northern Spain on Monday. Armstrong crashed along with about a dozen other riders as the peloton squeezed onto a rough, narrow stretch of road. He broke his collarbone -- a common injury in his sport -- for the first time in his career.

Armstrong said he was dazed after the crash and didn't realize the extent of his injuries until he passed his hand over his right shoulder and understood that what he thought was his radio cable was a displaced bone.

"Lying in the ditch in that situation yesterday ... You sort of ask yourself, 'What the hell am I doing here?'" he said. "I don't feel that way today, necessarily, although I'm still in a lot of pain and ready to get this behind me. It was a shock.

"To go as long as I have without having anything like this happen is basically a miracle. ... It was bound to happen. It's not good timing, but it certainly could be worse. And I look at it from a different perspective, too, just from the curveballs my health has thrown me in the past. Laying in that ditch with a shattered collarbone is a lot better than other health scares I've had."

After X-rays at a local hospital confirmed the fracture, he spent the night at the Madrid-area home of Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel and flew back to Austin via New York on Tuesday.

Armstrong's Astana teammates picked up the slack in Stage 2 of the race he was forced to abandon. Levi Leipheimer topped Alberto Contador by 16 seconds over a flat, windy 17.5-mile time trial course. Leipheimer, who won a third straight Tour of California title last month, also took the overall race lead by the same margin.

Armstrong joins a star-studded roster of cyclists sidelined by broken collarbones this spring that includes Saxo Bank's Stuart O'Grady of Australia, Team Columbia's Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg, and Garmin-Slipstream leader David Millar of Great Britain. O'Grady, who also had fractured ribs, had surgery to remove an edema between the ribs and lungs. Millar's AC joint, where the shoulder connects with the collarbone, is broken in multiple places. He also had torn ligaments. Millar had surgery last week and is expected to start training on a stationary bike next week.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com.