Cycling: Armstrong takes it easy on day one

Seven-times Tour winner admits to nerves but has fun in first race since return
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The Independent Online

The Seven-times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong finished in the middle of the field in his comeback to professional cycling yesterday after a conservative ride in the Tour Down Under's criterium.

The 37-year-old Texan, who retired after his final Tour victory in 2005, made no attempt to try to win the 51-kilometre (32-mile) race around the city streets of Adelaide, sticking to the middle of the peloton and finishing 64th out of the 133 starters.

"It's fun to get back in there, it felt good," he said. "I have trained a lot for this comeback and this race. I am glad the first day is over and we can now get into the races."

Armstrong said his only goal had been to make it to the finish line without crashing in a hectic race better suited to the sprinters. "I think the last time I did that fast a race was back in probably 1990," Armstrong said.

"I found it a little bit safer and easier in the back. I was a little nervous in the corners but the hardest thing was the sun, in one corner you had the sun in your eyes. Now I can relax a little bit more. There was a lot of anxiety before today."

An estimated crowd of 138,000 people lined the track to watch the race, which was run at breakneck speed in temperatures reaching 33C. Australia's Robbie McEwen, a three-times winner of the Tour de France's green jersey for sprinters, won the contest in just over an hour after riding near Armstrong during the early stages.

"I went and said g'day to him in the first 10 laps of the race. He was just happy to be there," the Australian said. "He was cruising along, no worries, just trying to stay out of trouble."

Armstrong's Astana team principal Johan Bruyneel said the rider had done everything expected of him on his first day back on the job.

"This is a special day. There's been a lot of talk since August about his comeback and finally it's a fact," Bruyneel said. "The instructions for Lance and the whole team were not to worry about the race and just get to the finish without crashes.

"I could see he was relaxed in the peloton and enjoying it. For him it was an important moment, he could finally put that number on his back and do a race and now he's a racer again, he's not just a guy who is training for a comeback."

"It's definitely not our ambition to win here, but if Lance feels good he will want to test himself," Bruyneel said. "We think he's good enough to be in the front group but, to go for the win, it's way too early and wouldn't be realistic."