Lance Armstrong whisked away to avoid fan frenzy

January 12th, 2009 - 1:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Jan 12 (DPA) Seven-time Tour de France cyclist champion Lance Armstrong began the Australian countdown to his much-heralded return to professional cycle racing Monday well away from the public gaze.Armstrong, 37, comes out of retirement to compete in the star-studded field gathering in Adelaide for the Tour Down Under stage race.

South Australian Tourism Commission head Andrew McEvoy said the cancer survivor was whisked away from Adelaide airport to a secret location because of the huge international interest in his return.

“We’ve certainly had some help from people like the Australian Federal Police and the local police in just making sure it doesn’t get too crazy,” McEvoy said. “He’s a very popular athlete and personality so crowds love him and that’s great and he’s a terrific person so it’s been a great operation.”

Armstrong arrived separately from his Astana team-mates and it’s expected he will train separately as well. Armstrong, who flew in from Hawaii, hopes to demonstrate he is worthy of a place in the Astana team for July’s Tour de France.

In brief remarks at Adelaide airport, the Texan was keen to douse expectations that he would win the Tour Down Under.

“I don’t have any illusions,” he told reporters. “I hope to get into the race and get reacquainted to the tempo, the speed and what it’s like to be around the tour guys, the fast-moving group.”

Armstrong said his training had gone well since his coming out of retirement in September.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “Considering other Januarys, I’m probably ahead of where I would have been in other years - but I’ve been training a lot earlier than previous years as well.”

He is hoping that a good showing in Adelaide will presage a first-ever start in the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia in May. But the man considered the best-ever cyclist was keen to tame expectations of a miraculous second-coming.

“I don’t want to get clobbered too bad - that’s my main motivation for training hard (for Adelaide),” he told reporters before disappearing behind six bodyguards.

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