Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong said yesterday not to expect too much from him in his return to competitive cycling after three years in retirement.
The testicular cancer survivor will make his professional comeback with the Astana team in the Tour Down Under Classic criterium next Sunday, then compete in the six-stage Tour Down Under from Jan. 20 to Jan. 25.
“I think it would be unrealistic to expect a victory,” Armstrong said yesterday. “The race has gotten harder and harder over the years. I hope to be in the mix, I could be completely wrong.”
The 37-year-old American arrived in Australia on Sunday and took a four-hour training ride yesterday before appearing at a media conference. He spent several weeks in Hawaii training for the Australian race.
“I’ve prepared much harder this series of months than I ever would have in the past,” Armstrong said.
“The tests that we do on the bike, or on the road, or in the lab indicate that my January fitness is much better than it ever was the years when I was winning the Tour. But that doesn’t mean anything until you get into the race,” he said.
He quipped that he might be the first rider dropped from the peloton — an unthinkable scenario for the Tour Down Under organizers.
“I know I have questions about my personal condition, but I’ve worked hard to get in shape, I’ve worked hard to show up here and try to ride at the front,” he said. “But when you’re one man out of 200 it’s strange how 199 other guys dictate how your day goes. I think it would be unrealistic to expect a victory.”
While Armstrong said most of the other riders in the field were also starting their seasons in Australia, he must reacquaint himself with riding in the peloton.
“I have a little bit of insecurity and a little bit of nervousness there and so that’s the reason I’ve tried to train hard and prepare hard — I’m fairly fit,” he said.
“You have to consider cycling: it’s not just about your physical condition, it’s about 200 guys going down the road and going around dangerous corners at 40mph [64kmh], 50mph — and how does that feel?” Armstrong asked.
“That’s a dynamic that you can’t simulate in training, so I’ve got to get in the group. And those are the things that most people look at and think we’re nuts to do this,” he said.
Armstrong said his decision to return to competitive cycling was influenced by his efforts in campaigning for cancer awareness.
“There have been times where I’ve thought ‘What the hell have I done?’ but they’re brief,” he said.
“For me it’s not so much a sporting challenge, and it’s not a financial challenge, it’s not any of those things. I came back as a volunteer and so I’m here for the love of the bike and the passion of the cause,” he said.