Armstrong in ’superb shape’ for return to cycle racing

January 15th, 2009 - 6:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 15 (DPA) Seven-time Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong Thursday was geared up for a practice ride on the hilliest stage of next week’s Tour Down Under.The Australian classic signals his return to competition after three years in retirement.

Cycling pundits are predicting that the 37-year-old Texan will finish in the peleton until the penultimate stage of the six-day race and make his move when the pack goes up Willunga Hill.

The world’s best-known cancer survivor picked the first race of the ProTour season to prove he’s worthy of a place in the high-powered Astana team for July’s Tour de France.

“He’s looking in superb shape,” Astana manager and former professional cyclist Sean Yates told reporters in Adelaide. “At this stage we haven’t a game plan in mind, but let me assure you he doesn’t want to look like a mug.”

Armstrong has taken daily four-hour training rides in sweltering heat since his arrival Sunday in the south coast city.

Adelaide authorities are protecting him from a huge media pack by providing a police escort for his training rides and closing roads to keep his accommodation a secret.

Australian rider Jack Bobridge rode with Armstrong for 150 kilometres and declared him to be “in really good form.”

Armstrong continued to play down his own chances when the race kicks off Tuesday, telling reporters he is overweight and lacking power.

“There are two things to look at - your natural power and condition, and also your body weight, which is an important factor in cycling, and both those things are about 5-10 per cent off,” he said.

But Armstrong revealed he still had the ambition and determination to compete at the highest level, saying he coveted an eighth Tour de France win.

“Would I like to? Hell, yeah. But I’m not sure it’s just that easy,” he said. “Those seven years, there were some years that we weren’t challenged. But it would be totally foolish and irresponsible to think it will be the same.”

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