Cycling: Lance's second coming more heaven than hell

Armstrong saddles up today for the Tour Down Under insisting he is no dope

It's not about the bike. It's about a global cancer awareness programme. And for Lance Armstrong it's also about proving yet again that his incredible achievements are not down to doping.

But the second coming of Armstrong also features a more relaxed man who can poke fun at himself; who rides for free for a greater cause.

Today, Armstrong begins his first professional race, the Tour Down Under, since winning the last of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles in 2005. The 10-year-old race is the first stop on the year's international circuit; a criterion followed by a largely undemanding six-stage race that potters through seaside towns and wine country in and around this sleepy Australian city.

"I go in with modest expectations, mixed with nerves mixed with excitement," Armstrong told a crowded press conference here yesterday. "But – not to sound like a slacker – with no major goals other than to make it through and get back into the rhythm of racing."

Armstrong has been welcomed as a messiah, with locals mobbing the 37-year-old Texan on training rides, in cafes and outside his hotel, prompting one reporter to ask if Armstrong felt like he was Jesus Christ.

"I've been called a lot of things," Armstrong answered with a broad grin. "But I don't know that He rode. He could do a lot of things apparently,but I don't know that He rode."

Mentally, Armstrong says he feels 25. Physically, it's not too bad either. "The only thing I can point to is a little bit of stiffness and soreness, which I suppose is normal for someone in their upper thirties," he said. "But the recovery's good, the power's good. I don't want to say I feel the same as in my early thirties, but I'm not far off."

The itch to return began during an amateur race in Colorado last August and gathered steam when Armstrong felt a "higher purpose". "There's no money here," said Armstrong, who is only paid appearance fees. "I'm doing it because I love to do it. I can't say that 2004, 2005 was like that. I think it became a job. I recaptured that passion. By me going out there and living my life and having fun and telling my story, I think it makes a difference."

Armstrong's well-documented health battle began in 1996, when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain. He returned to competition a stronger cyclist, and has faced constant speculation over whether drugs fuelled his success. To counter that, he has hired an anti-doping expert, Don Catlin, to test him and post the results on a soon-to-be-available website. "It is the most comprehensive anti-doping plan in the history of sport," said Armstrong, who has been tested12 times by Catlin since announcing his comeback in September.

Cancer awareness is the focus of Armstrong's comeback. His black and yellow bike is dedicated to his Livestrong cancer foundation. On the frame is the number 27.5 – representing in millions the number of people worldwide to die of cancer during his retirement. "It's a staggering number when you think of it," Armstrong said. "It seems like I've been off the bike for a long time, but it's only been three- and-a-half years, and in the meantime more people than live in this entire country [Australia] are gone."

Armstrong is riding for the Astana team, run by his long-time collaborator Johan Bruyneel. And in a sign of his new outlook, Armstrong says he is happy to play second fiddle to the team's lead rider, Alberto Contador, who won the 2007 Tour de France, rather than chase an eighth title.

"I did not call Johan and say 'I want you to guarantee me leadership'," Armstrong explained. "I just wouldn't do that. That's not the way cycling works. There's a very good chance that I roll up to the Tour as the fourth-best guy on the team."

After Adelaide, Armstrong tackles the Tour of California, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, the Giro del Trentino, the Giro d'Italia and then the Tour de France. The only complication is that his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, is expecting his fourth child in June. Unlike the three children Armstrong had with his ex-wife, Kristin, this baby was naturally conceived.

The new Armstrong relishes a full life; its ups and downs. And he is prepared to run the risk of his sporting legacy being overshadowed by a disastrous comeback.

"From a sporting perspective, yes, there's a great risk, and it might happen," he admitted. "But from a human perspective and a cause perspective, it's well worth the sporting risk."

John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £21000 per annum: The Jenrick Group: This high quality manufacturer o...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical ...

Recruitment Genius: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'