September 2, 2000


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Armstrong hopes for crowning glory

Francois Thomazeau

An Olympic gold medal in Sydney would complete a remarkable comeback for cycling hero and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

The 28-year-old American, twice winner of the Tour de France since beating Lance Armstrongtesticular cancer, will compete in his third Games next month and is the favourite for the time trial title.

In 1992, the Texan was a virtual unknown when he finished 14th in the individual road race at the Barcelona Olympics.

A year later he stunned his rivals by becoming world champion in Oslo.

The Americans rejoiced in having a home favourite in the 1996 Atlanta Games but none of those watching Armstrong then realised that he was already suffering from the cancer which would come close to killing him.

"In 1996, two months before I was diagnosed, the illness was raging. It' s not that I felt bad but I didn't compete well," said Armstrong.

He finished a disappointing 12th in the road race and sixth in the time trial before turning his attention to fighting the cancer which spread to his lungs and brain.

After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, Armstrong returned to competition in 1998, finishing fourth in both the road race and the time trial at the world championships, winning the Tour of Luxembourg and placing fourth in the Spanish and Dutch tours.

He signaled his full return to health by winning the 1999 Tour de France and then repeated the victory this year.

"It's great to be back as a cured person," he said after July's second victory.

Alex Zuelle of Switzerland, the runner-up in 1999, was full of admiration, saying of Armstrong: "He is a great cyclist, one who is driven by huge motivation and determination."

But despite his successive Tour wins, Armstrong knows he needs an Olympic gold to make him a sporting hero back home.

"The Olympics are very important for an American. You grow up with it, it's a childhood dream," said Armstrong who is the only American apart from Greg LeMond to win the Tour.

LeMond won in 1986 and had back-to-back wins in 1989 and 1990.

Armstrong's recently published autobiography has become a best-seller in the United States. He works with the Lance Armstrong Foundation to help cancer patients and has spoken at the White House on behalf of survivors of the disease. But cycling remains a minority sport Stateside.

"Americans don't understand the ins and outs of cycling. We don't know the history, the tradition," said Armstrong.

The American has been preparing for the Olympics in the south of France where he has a home and was lucky to escape unscathed on Thursday when he collided head-on with a car.

Armstrong, who won four of the individual time trials in the Tour last year and one this time, said he would focus on his speciality in Sydney but planned to also enter the 220-km road race in a bid to help compatriot George Hincapie.

"I'll probably start both races but I'm going to concentrate on training for the time trial," he said. "It's not the same preparation at all."

"The Olympic road race is a lottery. It will be much smarter for me to concentrate my training on the time trial which I think I have a good chance of winning," added Armstrong who will be one of the five-strong U.S. team in the road event.

Despite his pedigree, Armstrong does not see himself as the favourite for the time trial.

"For me the favourite has to be (German Jan) Ullrich. He's a very talented rider," Armstrong said.

Ullrich will certainly be out for revenge after finishing second in the Tour for the third time.

In Sydney, Armstrong will also encounter his fierce rival Marco Pantani. The Italian withdrew from the Tour through sickness after testing Armstrong in the mountain stages and the two were less than polite about each other.

Pantani does not excel at time trials but the two men could clash in the road race on September 27.

Whatever the outcome, Armstrong will leave Sydney in the mood for a celebration. October 2 marks the fourth anniversary of his cancer diagnosis and October 12 is the first birthday of his son Luke, born after in-vitro fertilisation treatment using frozen sperm taken before the American started his chemotherapy.

"The fact that I'm still here, that I'm still cancer-free is still the most important thing in my life," Armstrong said.

"For those people who look at my case as an example, I would like to say just one thing: If you ever get a second chance in life, you've got to go all the way."

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