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'Armstrong 50-50 for Tour de France'

October 22, 2008 19:46 IST

The chances of seven-times winner Lance Armstrong riding in next year's Tour de France are 50-50, his Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel said on Wednesday.

Tour de France organisers also appeared fairly indifferent over the prospect of Armstrong opting out of the race as they presented next year's route.

The American, who dominated the race from 1999 to 2005 before retiring, returns to competitive cycling in January but said he was undecided on his participation in the Tour, his main objective when he launched his comeback last month.

"His chances of doing the Tour are 50-50 for the moment," Bruyneel told reporters at the presentation ceremony in Paris.

"We have to see if he is physically able to cope with it. Personally, I think he is capable.

"Today is October 22, 2008 and I can tell you he is in better shape than on October 2003 or 2004 because he used to take a big break after the Tour. He now needs to get this extra one per cent that will make the difference" the Belgian added.

Armstrong, who snubbed the 2009 route presentation ceremony on Wednesday, has committed to racing in the Giro d'Italia but his difficult relationship with Tour de France organisers and the French crowd has delayed his decision regarding that event.

"It is up to him to decide whether he wants to come or not," Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme told reporters.

"His return [on the Tour] would neither be a bad, nor a good thing. Of course he is a special character, but for the Tour he is a rider like others."


Armstrong has had a difficult relationship with Tour organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), who said earlier this month the 37-year-old's return to the race would be "embarrassing."

French daily L'Equipe, owned by ASO's parent company EPA (Editions Philippe Amaury), claimed three years ago that samples of Armstrong's urine from 1999 showed traces of the banned blood-boosting substance erythropoietin.

However, Armstrong never tested positive and was cleared by a Dutch investigator appointed by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

At that time, then World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick Pound said Armstrong's clearance was "strange."

Armstrong also said that he had sent a letter to the organisers to inform them of his comeback but he had not received any feedback.

"We never had any direct contact with Armstrong," Prudhomme added.

"Riding the Tour or not will be his decision."

However, Tour competition director Jean-Francois Pescheux said he is not sure if Armstrong would really compete.

"I will believe it when I see him on a bike. A three-year break is a long time," he said.

Armstrong is scheduled to return to competition in the Tour Down Under in Australia next January.

"He is here to raise awareness of his fight against cancer. He is not obsessed by the Tour," Bruyneel added.

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