My abiding memory of Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France came following the prologue at the 2005 race at Noirmoutier en I'lle. As I was chatting to one of Armstrong's Discovery Channel mechanics as the prologue reached its crescendo, Armstrong suddenly appeared with barely a bead of sweat on his brow having just missed out on winning the stage by two seconds to his countryman David Zabriskie.
I managed to get my first question in before the first television cameras arrived. By question two, it was turning into a tight squeeze and, by question three, I was virtually cheek to cheek with the Texan in a scrum of bodies. I apologised for the intimacy but Armstrong coolly said "don't worry about it, I'm used to it" as he slipped into the team bus, leaving the media to disappear just as quickly as it had assembled.
For the American, 37, that was how the script went every day en route to his seven Tour wins which begs the question why on earth does he want to come back? He has two more wins than any other rider in Tour history, has enough money in the bank never to need to work again and revealed this week that he has every intention of being a team player on behalf of Alberto Contador at the race. For Armstrong, he insists the main purpose of his return is to spread the message of his cancer charity, LiveStrong, which is an admirable plight but one suspects there is much more to it.
Despite comments to the contrary, the Astana rider is highly unlikely to be happy to play second fiddle - here's a man who repeatedly said at the height of his powers on the bike, "I don't do second place". One suspects he has such unnerving belief in his abilities that between now and the Tour he believes he can prove to the team boss Johan Bruyneel, the mastermind of his seven Tour wins, that he is worth backing over current team leader Contador.
Watching the relatively slow pace of last year's race from home - far slower than the years of his Tour wins - was probably the trigger that tempted Armstrong out of retirement to test himself against the younger men. Another overriding reason for his return is to silence the doping doubters. Armstrong has never failed a drugs test but many of his past rivals have since been exposed as drugs cheats and he readily accepts people are entitled to have their doubts about how clean he was.
So, by coming back and riding when cycling is at its cleanest for years and riders are more heavily tested than ever before - Armstrong has already been subject to seven random tests since announcing his plans to return in September - he hopes to shut up his accusers once and for all. Whatever his motivation, however, Armstrong will once again be the story of the Tour de France and his leading rivals will only be able to watch with bemusement as he is mobbed by all and sundry for the three weeks of the race.
Should Armstrong pull off the remarkable and win next year's race - he will comfortably be the oldest Tour winner. The previous record is held by Firmin Lambot, who won in 1922 at the age of 36. But no one really knows what sort of Armstrong will turn up on the start line in Monaco next July. He may well have been off the bike for three years but one suspects it will be an Armstrong back at the peak of his powers.