Cycling: Armstrong insists 'I can race with best'

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The Independent Online

Lance Armstrong said he believed he could again compete with the best cyclists in the world after completing his comeback race at the Tour Down Under in Australia. The seven-times Tour de France winner was content just to stick with the pack in his first race for three and a half years but said the experience had reassured him he could still match it with the best.

He finished 71st in yesterday's final stage of the six-day 800-kilometre (550-mile) Tour and 29th overall from 133 starters, 49 seconds behind the Australian winner Allan Davis. "I wouldn't say it has given me too much confidence, [but] it's given me a reassurance that I can still race," he said. "I can still race at the highest level."

Armstrong, who announced last year he was making a comeback at the age of 37, said he had never expected to win the race but hoped to be competitive in the middle of the year. He began cautiously but made a couple of attacking moves in the latter stages, only to be swamped by the specialist sprinters in the mad dash at the end of each stage. "It helps when you have good legs, I felt a lot better today, probably the best of the entire week," he said. "So when you feel good and you've got good legs, you've got to go for it, don't you?"

Yesterday's final 81km stage here was won by the Italian Francesco Chicchi ahead of Robbie McEwen and fellow Australian Graeme Brown. Davis, who won three of the six stages, was the overall winner from Australia's Stuart O'Grady. The Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas was awarded third place on a countback from Switzerland's Martin Elmiger.

Armstrong's comeback raised global interest and an estimated 144,000 people turned up to watch the final stage. Armstrong also took part to promote cancer awareness. "This guy is something special, I am totally impressed, he is the complete champion," said the race director, Mike Turtur.