Lance Armstrong to ride with Astana in comeback

By: AP
By: AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Lance Armstrong is chasing an eighth Tour de France title and an elusive feat: persuading everyone he's clean.

As Armstrong reunites with his close friend and Astana team director Johan Bruyneel, the man behind his yellow jerseys, he's also adding a new member to his support group. Anti-doping expert Don Catlin has been hired to test Armstrong anytime, anywhere - and to post the results online for the world to see.

"I think it's the first time an athlete can actually be totally validated on the chance he's successful," Armstrong said Wednesday. "In my opinion, Don Catlin is beyond reproach."

Armstrong revealed details of his comeback two weeks after saying he would end a three-year retirement. He'll ride for Astana and will compete in the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia, in January.

The setting was the Clinton Global Initiative, the annual meeting of former President Bill Clinton's foundation. Armstrong held a news conference to talk cycling after announcing a new worldwide campaign to fight cancer before an audience of political and corporate leaders.

As he described his 2009 Tour plans, the 37-year-old Armstrong sometimes made it sound as though this was more a publicity move to raise awareness about the fight against cancer than a legitimate shot at winning an eighth title.

"I think we're sure we'll have success with the movement, because we need it," he said in an interview with The Associated Press, "but I'm not sure I'll be the fastest cyclist in the world."

Astana was banned from this year's Tour because of past doping violations. But Pat McQuaid, the leader of cycling's governing body, said he believed the team would be allowed to return in 2009.

The Amaury Group, which owns the company that organizes the Tour, has confirmed in writing to UCI that Astana is on its list of teams "that they say are guaranteed to ride to the Tour de France in 2009 and 2010," he told the AP.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme didn't respond to messages.

The makeup of the 2009 Astana team is unclear. Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champ, suggested in AS newspaper Tuesday that the two elite riders couldn't coexist on the same team.

In a statement released by Astana on Wednesday, Contador was conciliatory but didn't commit to remaining on the team.

"Right now people are looking to make up controversy, but honestly I have no ill will towards Lance," he said. "I identify with his passion for the sport. He has certainly been a role model for me and others throughout the world, and I imagine having him on Team Astana will only motivate me further."

Contador, signed with Astana through 2010, won the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday. Combined with his 2008 Giro d'Italia title, he became just the fifth cyclist to win the three highest-regarded Tours.

"I think there's room for all of us on that team," Armstrong said.

Another Astana rider, American Levi Leipheimer, is a former Armstrong teammate with U.S. Postal Service.

"He will make everyone on the team better, and that is a good thing," Leipheimer said from the cycling world championships in Varese, Italy.

Armstrong also hopes to improve the next generation of cyclists, starting an under-23 team that will include 18-year-old Taylor Phinney. Phinney, the son of 1984 Olympic medalists Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Davis Phinney, finished seventh at the Beijing Games in the individual pursuit. Axel Merckx, son of cycling great Eddy Merckx, will lead the development team.

Armstrong, the greatest rider of his generation, is counting on Catlin to help cement his legacy. Catlin will be paid by Astana, but McQuaid had no problem with that.

"I would have every faith that the results that he will find will be correct and transparent," McQuaid said in a telephone interview. "He wouldn't suffer fools, and he wouldn't be a man that would be involved in anything unethical or incorrect."

Catlin oversaw testing for anabolic agents at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and ran the country's first anti-doping lab at UCLA for 25 years. He now runs Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit organization he founded to research performance-enhancing drugs, uncover new drugs being used illegally and develop tests to detect them.

Armstrong said he didn't know what kinds of tests Catlin would use.

Catlin did not immediately return messages and emails left by The Associated Press.

"I think this will be the most advanced anti-doping program in the world," Armstrong said. "I'm going to talk about it today; beyond today, I'm not going to tell you how clean I am, and I'm not going to insinuate how dirty the others are.

"I'm going to ride my bike, I'm going to spread this message (about the fight against cancer) around the world, and Don Catlin can tell you if I'm clean or not."

Kazakh Cycling Federation deputy chief Nikolai Proskurin said Armstrong agreed to ride for the Kazakhstan-based team for free the first year and has signed up to take part in five races. Armstrong wouldn't rule out competing beyond 2009, but for now that's all he's committed to.

His goals for his charitable work are clearer. Armstrong plans to hold a global summit on cancer in Paris after the Tour. He hopes to draw nearly a dozen world leaders, including the next U.S. president. His schedule in the months leading up to the Tour will be influenced by the campaign to expand his foundation's fight against cancer to underserved parts of the world.

"This will not look like any other Tour de France preparation," he said. "The fact that we're starting the season down under in Australia, looking to events in South Africa, looking to do training camps in South America - this won't resemble any of the other seven victories, which is slightly scary.

"But I think you have the need and the void in these societies that it helps when you go."


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