Friday, September 12, 2008

Riders welcome news of Armstrong's surprise return

CALAHORRA, Spain: Lance Armstrong's plan to return to professional cycling was welcomed by fellow riders on Wednesday.

"It's great news for cycling," Astana rider Jose Luis Rubiera of Spain, who was part of Armstrong's line-up on five of the American's seven Tour victories, told Reuters.

"Armstrong has got the character to do it and he would draw in millions of supporters again.

"At a sponsorship level, I can't see it doing anything but good.

"On one level, you have to ask if it's possible to come back at 37 to win the Tour. On the other hand, knowing Lance, anything is possible. He won't be coming back to finish second."

Rubiera is due to retire at the end of the season but said he might reconsider after Armstrong's decision, announced on Tuesday.

"It would be a very interesting challenge. I was going to quit but I could go on for another year if Lance asked me to do so," he said.

Fellow Astana rider and former Tour de France winner Alberto Contador said he would be pleased if Armstrong signed for his team.

"I'm focused on winning the Tour of Spain but of course I would welcome him to the team," Contador told reporters at the start of the Tour of Spain's stage 11.

The 25-year-old Spaniard added, however, that he would not sacrifice his own chances of a second Tour victory.

"Assuming I race the Tour de France next year, it will be to try and win it," said Contador, who won the Giro d'Italia in June.

Team barred

The Kazakh-funded Astana team was barred from this year's Tour because of its implication in doping scandals over the past two years.

Carlos Sastre of Team CSC, who won the 2008 Tour, told Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Wednesday: "Just seeing Lance Armstrong on television makes my hair stand on end.

"Armstrong is in love with this sport. It will be tough for him to come back but if that's the case it's because he thinks he can do something."

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said he did not rule out the return of Armstrong, who retired after his seventh successive win in 2005, provided the American accepted the rules.

"As long as his team, which one we don't know, and himself accept the rules regarding notably doping, the perception of which has changed a lot over the past few years, we will accept him," Prudhomme told the website of French sports daily L'Equipe .

"It is a real challenge to come back three years after having retired, even if he did finish second in a mountain bike race recently," Prudhomme added.

Tour of Spain director Victor Cordero told Reuters: "Personally, I don't believe in these sorts of comebacks. Beyond that, I prefer not to comment."

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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