PARIS // Seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong gave his thumbs up to next year's route and said he was eager to meet the new officials in charge of the race and clear up the uncertainty over his participation. The American, who is coming out of a three-year retirement, has yet to decide whether he will ride in France next summer because of his difficult relationship with the Tour organisers and the French crowd.
"The route of the 2009 Tour de France strikes me as innovative and very interesting," the 37-year-old Armstrong said in a statement released late last night. "From its start in Monte Carlo with a 15k time trial, to the reinstatement of the team time trial, to stages in my old hometown of Girona all the way to another visit to my old friend the Ventoux, I could not have hoped for a different Tour."
He added: "While there has been a fair bit of tension and numerous disagreements with the Tour and its organisers, I am well aware that there is new leadership at (tour owners) ASO and I look forward to upcoming conversations and to a mutually beneficial future together." The former ASO president Patrice Clerc, one of Armstrong's fiercest opponents throughout his career, was last month replaced by Jean-Etienne Amaury, who said Armstrong's return would be "embarrassing".
Armstrong's team Astana manager, Johan Bruyneel, said yesterday that the Texan, who triumphed on the French roads from 1999 to 2005, would ride the Tour if he felt the atmosphere would be serene, rating his chances of taking part as 50-50. French daily L'Equipe, owned by ASO's parent company EPA (Editions Philippe Amaury), claimed three years ago that samples of Armstrong's urine from 1999 showed traces of the banned blood-boosting substance erythropoietin.
However, Armstrong never tested positive and was cleared by a Dutch investigator appointed by the International Cycling Union. At that time, then World Anti-Doping Agency President Dick Pound said Armstrong's clearance was "strange". *Reuters