- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas | Lance Armstrong is getting back on his bike, determined to win an eighth Tour de France.

Armstrong’s return from cancer to win the Tour a record seven consecutive times made him a hero to cancer patients worldwide and elevated cycling to an unprecedented level in America.

The 36-year-old Armstrong told Vanity Fair in an exclusive interview posted on its Web site Tuesday that he was inspired to return after finishing second last month in the Leadville 100, a lung-searing 100-mile mountain bike race through the Colorado Rockies.

“This kind of obscure bike race totally kick-started my engine,” he told the magazine. “I’m going to try and win an eighth Tour de France.”

The sport and particularly the Tour have missed his star power, even though skeptics refused to believe he could win seven Tours without the help of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

The 2009 Tour “is the intention, but we’ve got some homework to do over there,” Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Higgins told the Associated Press.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme did not return messages seeking comment on Armstrong’s decision. His staff said he would not comment before Wednesday morning, if at all.

Armstrong’s close friend and longtime team director, Johan Bruyneel, now with team Astana, sent a text message to an AP reporter in Paris saying he did not want to comment now.

In a video statement on his foundation’s Web site, Armstrong said details - such as a team and schedule - will be announced Sept. 24 at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.

“I am happy to announce that after talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden,” Armstrong said. “This year alone, nearly 8 million people will die of cancer worldwide. … It’s now time to address cancer on a global level.”

In the Vanity Fair interview, Armstrong told the magazine he’s 100 percent sure he’s going to compete in the Tour next summer.

“We’re not going to try to win second place,” Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s lawyer and longtime confidant, told the AP.

“I think it’s great,” said longtime teammate George Hincapie, who added he spoke to Armstrong on Tuesday morning. “Like I said earlier today, without Lance half the teams in this race probably wouldn’t be around. He’s done more than anyone for the sport, especially in America and around the world.”

“On a personal note, I like that he’s going to be back in the peloton. He’s a great friend of mine, and I also think for the sport it’s good, too.”

Armstrong noted in the magazine interview that other athletes in his age range are competing at a high level, specifically 41-year-old Olympic medalist swimmer Dara Torres and 38-year-old Olympic women’s marathon champion Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania.

“Older athletes are performing well,” he said. “Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale.”

Age will be an issue for Armstrong in the Tour de France. He will be 37 next week, ancient for such a grueling competition. Only one rider older than 34 has won the Tour - 36-year-old Firmin Lambot in 1922.

On Monday, the cycling journal VeloNews reported on its Web site that Armstrong would compete with the Astana team, led by Bruyneel, in the Tour and four other road races - the Amgen Tour of California, Paris-Nice, the Tour de Georgia and the Dauphine-Libere.

But there are no guarantees Astana would be allowed to race in the 2009 Tour. Race officials kept the team out of the 2008 Tour because of previous doping violations.

If Armstrong and his team aren’t invited in 2009, he plans to appeal directly to French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

“I’ve already put a call in to him,” he told Vanity Fair.

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