Cycling: Armstrong oiling the gears

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The Independent Online

Lance Armstrong returns to France this weekend to begin preparing for a seventh Tour de France win.

Lance Armstrong returns to France this weekend to begin preparing for a seventh Tour de France win.

The American is likely to intensify his training in the coming months and tomorrow he will be on the start line for the 63rd edition of the Paris-Nice race. Tomorrow's stage is a gentle 2.5-mile (4km) prologue and more a chance to shake off any rustiness than to prove a point. Armstrong has made it clear he has no intention of attempting to win the Paris-Nice.

"I have very low expectations for me personally," he said. "It will be my first race in Europe since the Tour [de France] of 2004. It's a great race that is steeped in history. It's interesting as it used to be a real goal for me to try and win Paris-Nice. However, that has changed and it's now purely a preparation race."

Armstrong has mixed memories of Paris-Nice, which is nicknamed "The race to the sun", because of Nice's south-coast location. A stage winner in 1995, second in 1996 behind the Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, the Texan came back to the race in 1998 after winning his fight against testicular cancer. "Of course I will never forget quitting there in '98 and basically retiring from cycling, only to come back a few months later," he said.

Following the Paris-Nice race, Armstrong is expected to race in the Tour of Flanders on 3 April and defend his title at the Tour of Georgia later that month. In the run-up to the Tour, he could also race at the Dauphine Libere.

Accompanying Armstrong toward Nice will be loyal team-mates Jose Azevedo, Manuel Beltran and Viatcheslav Ekimov as well as new faces Paolo Savoldelli and Yaroslav Popovych. Discovery, which took over sponsoring Armstrong's team from US Postal Service, will face stiff competition from the two-time winner Alexander Vinokourov of Kazhakstan from the T-Mobile team and last year's winner Jorg Jaksche of Team CSC.

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