Lance Armstrong To Make Return On Astana Team

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong said he will make his comeback on the Astana team in his bid for an eighth Tour de France title in 2009. Astana is headed by Johan Bruyneel, who was Armstrong's team director in all his seven wins.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Today, Lance Armstrong filled in some details about his return to cycling. The seven-time Tour de France winner says he plans to be back on the bike officially this coming January. Armstrong, who's 37, said he will use his visibility in cycling to help promote global awareness about cancer, the disease that nearly killed him over a decade ago. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Armstrong has committed to racing three events. First, in January, a stage race called the Tour Down Under in Australia. He'll also compete in the Leadville 100 and the race he's most identified with, the Tour de France. He'll join the cycling team Astana and reunite with Astana director Johan Bruyneel. He's the man who oversaw Armstrong's teams for each of the seven Tour de France victories. Despite their winning combination, Armstrong today would not guarantee tour win number eight.

Mr. LANCE ARMSTRONG (Professional Road Racing Cyclist): I've been off the bike for three and half years. Come next summer, it will be almost four years. I will try to be as prepared as possible. I don't know that that equals victory. You know, in 2001, I could say that. I could say, yeah, I think I can win, or I want to win, or I'm going to win. I won't say that today because I simply don't know. I have a fair bit of confidence, but I don't have that kind of confidence yet, so.

GOLDMAN: Armstrong is confident he'll send a strong message this time around that he is racing without the aid of banned performance-enhancing drugs. He's always denied using banned substances, but doping allegations and suspicions followed him throughout his Tour de France reign. Today, Armstrong described a personal antidoping plan in which tests and results can be scrutinized by everyone online.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: This will be the most advanced antidoping program in the world, beyond anything else. 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 around the world. And Don Catlin can tell you if I'm clean or not.

GOLDMAN: Renowned antidoping scientist Don Catlin will oversee the program - a surprising move to some, considering Catlin is most associated with catching drug-using athletes. He has lamented in the past the widespread use of banned drugs in elite cycling. At his press conference today, Armstrong was asked if Catlin might have taken the job with Astana and Armstrong for the money.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think I overheard Don say the other day that there is not enough money anywhere to potentially buy out Don Catlin. So for the conspiracy theorists out there that might think that, I would refer them to Don Catlin.

GOLDMAN: Catlin didn't respond to an email request for an interview by air time. For Armstrong, convincing a skeptical public that he and his team are clean is one thing. Convincing Tour de France organizers is another. Battered by recent scandals, Tour organizers have shown little tolerance for any rider or team with doping connections. Because of its past connections, Astana was not invited to this year's tour. Obviously, Armstrong hopes that changes for next year.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I can't force myself on the event. It's their event, and I respect that. We look to be partners. We're not here to take anybody's fame, take anybody's glory. We're trying to be good partners and ride their event with dignity and honor.

GOLDMAN: Armstrong says even if he and Astana aren't invited back, he plans on ending the cycling season in Paris after the Tour de France with a global summit to raise cancer awareness. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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