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Armstrong will return for 2009 Tour de France
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 d'Italia in the same year.
"I'm 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 to 31, and the Tour begins July 4.
With such a quick turnaround between two grueling 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 you've been away for three or four years, it would be silly for anybody to think I could pick up where I left off," Armstrong said 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, we'll have to see. Mentally, in terms of motivation, this feels like 1998-1999 to me."
Armstrong's decision to ride gives the powerhouse Astana team a superstar lineup in France, including 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador. He missed last year's race because Astana was barred from riding for previous doping violations. Also riding with Astana is Germany's Andreas Kloeden, American veteran Levi Leipheimer and top support rider Yaroslav Popovych.
Astana is considered by far the strongest multistage team.
"We'll abide by the same code that I do: cycling is team sport, while we'd 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.
French anti-doping agency chief Pierre Bordry would not comment on Armstrong's decision but did say "he will treated like everyone else" when it comes to drug testing.
Jonathan Vaughters, Armstrong's U.S. Postal teammate during the 1999 Tour win and now Garmin Chipotle's sporting director, said he was not surprised by the news.
"I never considered it a realistic possibility he wasn't going to do the Tour, Vaughters said by telephone. "It's the biggest race in the world. Why wouldn't he want to do that?"
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 Armstrong's safety when he was riding. In recent years, organizers have taken additional steps to protect riders.
Armstrong dismissed any potential threats Monday: "It's not going to keep me from going and doing my job, and it's 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.
"I'm happy with the record (seven wins). I'm training hard and trying to be as competitive as possible," he said. "The main objective is the message of the foundation. That's the first priority and if we ride moderately well, it helps get the message out."
He's scheduled to return to elite racing Jan. 20 for the Tour Down Under in Australia. That's also when the drug-testing program he's arranging with Don Catlin, America's top anti-doping expert, will be in place.
But no race provides a stage similar to the Tour.
"The Tour is the biggest bike race in the world; we need it to tell this story on the biggest stage," Armstrong said. "There's a mutual respect there, it hasn't always been mutual love. We need them, they need us."
AP Writer Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed to this report.