Cycling: Armstrong the icon ready to focus on momentous battle

Texan anticipates global cancer summit after ending season in Ireland today
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The Independent Online

Lance Armstrong looks set to end 2009 without a major win but his biggest success is surely his fight against cancer.

The 37-year-old Texan has combined his racing with promoting cancer awareness everywhere he has visited. He is now as much an icon for cancer survivors as much as he is for cyclists.

Today the final third of the Tour of Ireland will be his last road race this season. Tomorrow he will swap his cycling kit for a suit and tie, to deliver the opening speech at the Livestrong Global Cancer Summit in Dublin organised by his foundation.

Armstrong has not won a race in Europe this year and was only third in the Tour de France but considers the success of his foundation more important than victories on his bike.

"It's been a thrill all year long. I'm satisfied with how the whole year has gone," he said after finishing the second stage of the Tour of Ireland in Killarney yesterday. "I think we've exceeded our expectations. In Dublin we'll have more than 500 people there and 65 countries will be represented. We never expected to get that far and we never expected to get the commitments on a local, national and international level."

"For three days we'll talk about some exciting stuff, speak with exciting people. While it's not a slam dunk and none of us are going to cure this disease overnight, I think it's the first truly global effort we've seen."

Armstrong has not been given a warm welcome everywhere he races, with the French media especially hostile. However Pat McQuaid, the UCI president was happy to see the Texan in Ireland.

"I've said it all year, Lance is like Michael Schumacher, he's like Tiger Woods, he transcends the sport of cycling and he's a world star," McQuaid told The Independent on Sunday. "His comeback is good for cycling and for the fight against cancer. He's a great ambassador for both. He's come back in a more relaxed frame of mind so presents a much better image than when he was totally focused on winning the Tour de France. I think he's seen the other side of life, the Hollywood side of life, when he was retired, and now is happy to be back in cycling.

"Before the start of the race on Friday he spent time with a young girl who is seriously ill with cancer. It's a side of Lance that a lot of people don't know exists but it's what makes him special."

Armstrong will ride for his own team in 2010, sponsored by electronics shop RadioShack. He will target an eighth victory at the Tour de France. He is also trying to revive the Tour of Colorado stage race for 2011. "He got a huge amount out of cycling but he's prepared to put it back in and help the sport," McQuaid revealed.

"He talks to me a lot about helping the sport to grow. I think we're coming out of a bad moment in cycling because of the doping scandals but I think we're going into a good period. Lance has played a huge part in the popularity of cycling in the US and around the world."

Armstrong finished 74th, safely in the main pack yesterday at the Tour of Ireland. He is 20th overall after being in the decisive attack on Friday's first stage to Waterford.

Britain's Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia won the second stage from Clonmel to Killarney with another of his high-speed sprints. It was the 24-year-old Manxman's 21st win of the season.

It was also his 80th race of the season but he intends to race on, competing at the Tour of Missouri in early September and then at the world championships in Switzerland on 27 September. He hopes to sign off with a final victory at the Paris-Tours classic on France on 11 October.

"It's known as the sprinter's classic," said Cavendish. "I won Milan-San Remo, I won on the Champs-Elysées at the Tour de France and if I win Paris-Tours I'll have all three. I like to set myself challenges."

Cavendish, like Armstrong, ruled himself out of winning today's final stage. The 185km stage is from Bantry to Cork and ends with three climbs of St Patrick's Hill. Both have their eye on other objectives.