Cycling: Lance Armstrong comeback date announced

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Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong will begin his comeback to professional road cycling in Australia's Tour Down Under in January.

Mike Rann, premier of South Australia state, made the announcement today, hours ahead of the American's planned media conference in New York to announce details of his comeback.

Armstrong's appearance in Australia in January was also confirmed to The Associated Press by Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur.

The six-stage Tour Down Under, the first event on the 2009 world pro cycling calendar, will be raced from 20-25 January in South Australia state, centered on the capital Adelaide.

Armstrong announced on 9 September that he is returning to cycling after three years in retirement and would attempt to win the Tour de France an eighth time.

"The confirmation just came through that he will starting in our race in January," said Turtur, a former Australian Olympic cyclist who won gold in team pursuit at the 1984 Olympics.

"It's great news for Adelaide and the Tour Down Under. We're all looking forward to the comeback of the greatest cyclist that ever raced the Tour de France. He is a superstar in the same category as Tiger Woods."

Armstrong is set to join the Astana team, where Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's team director for all of his Tour de France victories, is team leader. The two are close friends.

Today, Kazakh business officials told AP that Armstrong will join Astana. They said Armstrong will make the announcement at his news conference in New York, and spoke on condition of anonymity because they didn't want to pre-empt that announcement.

Officials with Team Astana could not be immediately reached for comment.

Nikolai Proskurin, deputy head of Kazakhstan's Cycling Federation, confirmed Armstrong would be making an announcement with Team Astana but refused to comment further.

There were reports in Madrid on Tuesday that Spanish rider Alberto Contador would leave in those circumstances.

"I've earned the right to be the leader of a team without having to fight for my place," Contador said in AS newspaper. "And with Armstrong, some difficult situations could arise in which the team would put him first and that would hurt me."

Contador, the 2007 Tour de France champion, won the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday. Combined with his 2008 Giro d'Italia title, he became just the fifth cyclist to win the three highest-regarded Tours.

"My intention is to stay (at Astana) because I have a contract until 2010, but I have already received a good number of offers from other teams," he said.

Rann said the numbers of spectators for the race would likely double with the presence of Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer in 1996.

"What Lance wants to do is to use his comeback to really globalize his campaign to raise awareness and also raise funding for research into cancer prevention and cancer treatment," Rann said. "We will be very willing partners in that."

It's not Armstrong's first appearance in Australia — he competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, winning bronze in the individual time trial.