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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 16:37 UK

Mixed reaction to Armstrong news

BBC Joe Wilson reports on the reaction to Armstrong's return

Cycling legend Lance Armstrong has been told he has no chance of winning the Tour de France for an eighth time.

The American, who is 37 in eight days, has targeted the 2009 race after his shock decision to end his retirement.

"In my opinion it's impossible to win. It's impossible to come back on the level he had before," said Rabobank team leader Adri van Houwelingen.

But Spaniard Jose Luis Rubiera, a former team-mate of Armstrong, insisted the Texan should not be written off.

"Armstrong has got the character to do it and he would draw in millions of supporters again," said Rubiera, who was part of Armstrong's line-up on five of the American's seven Tour victories.

I know how him well and how he is... he'll do all he needs to get the results

Davide Rebellin
"On one level, you have to ask if it's possible to come back at 37 to win the Tour. On the other hand, knowing Lance, anything is possible. He won't be coming back to finish second."

Roger Hammond, another former team-mate of Armstrong, agrees.

"Cycling is never easy and to win the Tour is never easy, but he's definitely not over the hill and he's still a very good athlete," said the Briton.

"He's got the experience of winning seven Tours so he knows what it takes.

"OK, 37 is getting old," added Hammond, who was part of Armstrong's Discovery Channel team in 2005, the year he won the last of his seven successive Tours.

"But I know a rider (Italian Fabio Baldato) who was 39 and in the top 10 of the Paris-Roubaix this year, which is one of the toughest one-day races in the world."

According to Armstrong's close friend, legendary US coach Jim Ochowicz, the seven-time Tour champion has kept himself in good condition since quitting competitive cycling back in 2005.

"He didn't just lay around on the couch and watch TV for the last couple of years," Ochowicz told BBC Radio 5 Live.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Phil Harlow
"He has been out doing marathons and riding a lot of long-distance charity rides, so he's had to stay in pretty good shape to do those things on a regular basis.

"When he sets his mind to doing something he gets it done. He obviously believes he can win again. He doesn't make these kind of decisions idly."

Italian Davide Rebellin agreed that Armstrong would be in the best possible shape when he eventually returns to competitive racing.

"From the moment he starts training, he'll be on his way to competing," said the 37-year-old Gerolsteiner rider.

"I know how him well and how he is. He'll do all he needs to get the results. If he returns, he'll surely be competitive."

Another former team-mate, Sean Yates, believes the close bonds riders form with other cyclists would have been one of the key factors in his return.

"He has made it clear that he misses the camaraderie of the bike team," the 48-year-old Briton told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"When you're part of a team your part of a close-knit group."

However, there are several people who are not convinced Armstrong has made the right decision.

"As a cyclist, I don't understand it," said Spaniard Alejandro Valverde. "But everybody is their own person and can do what they want.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong has kept himself in good shape since retiring in 2005
"It seems surprising to me, after having left cycling and even more so after having won seven Tours, but if he is fit and hasn't lost his form then he will be welcomed back."

Carlos Sastre, this year's Tour de France winner, added: "I imagine that he's studied everything and he will have looked at the pros and cons. If he's done that, then it's fine with me."

Speaking before Armstrong's return was made official, Britain's David Millar said: "It seems a bit ambitious.

"I am very surprised because I was fairly sure he had put cycling behind him and he was moving on with his life."

But the Scot admitted Armstrong, who will shed more light on his comeback plans on 24 September, is no ordinary cyclist.

"Lance has proven in the past he can do almost anything," said Millar. "It sounds totally off the wall at first, but that's the sort of person Lance is."

Asked what kind of reaction Armstrong's comeback had sparked amongst his fellow cyclists, he added: "Surprise more than anything. Curiosity as well to see what he can do and what he can't do."

Armstrong has been plagued by accusations of doping through his career, although he has never failed a drugs test and maintains he is a clean athlete.

He's been a superb athlete, both in coming back from cancer and in winning seven Tours

UCI president Pat McQuaid
And he has voiced fears that race organisers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), could bar him from competing again as part of their crackdown on doping.

But race director Christian Prudhomme said the Texan will be able to compete if he fully submits to the latest anti-doping controls.

"As long as his team, which we don't know for the moment, and he himself abide by the rules concerning doping and anti-doping which have considerably evolved in the last few years, we will accept him," said Prudhomme.

"But under no circumstances will we accept a cyclist who refuses to abide by these rules which are stricter and of a different nature than previously."

Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), added that Armstrong was "free to race".

"There's nothing to stop him coming back," he said. "There is no administrative, legal or sporting issue to stop him.

"From the UCI's point of view, he's free to race.

"He can come back, but the question is if he can return to the same level. Maybe he doesn't know that himself, maybe he just wants to see what he can do.

"He's been a superb athlete, both in coming back from cancer and in winning seven Tours."




see also
Armstrong looks to recapture past glories
10 Sep 08 |  Sport Homepage
Armstrong photos
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling
Armstrong to make shock comeback
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling
Contador would welcome Armstrong
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling
606 Debate: Armstrong's return
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling
Au revoir Lance
25 Jul 05 |  Cycling
All hail the king
24 Jul 05 |  Cycling
Armstrong seals seventh Tour win
24 Jul 05 |  Cycling


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