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Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 08:25 UK

Armstrong unfazed by Tour changes

Lance Armstrong during the 2002 Tour de France
Armstrong would face Ventoux after nearly three weeks in the saddle

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has called the 2009 route "innovative and very interesting" as he plans a tilt at an eighth crown.

The famous Mount Ventoux climb has been delayed until the penultimate stage.

Armstrong said: "There has been a bit of tension and numerous disagreements with the Tour and its organisers.

"But from its start in Monte Carlo with a 15km time trial, to the reinstatement of the team time trial, I could not have hoped for a more different Tour."

Armstrong, 37, recovered from cancer and won the Tour a record seven times before retiring in 2005.

Noting "another visit to my old friend the Ventoux", he added: "I look forward to next year" before approaching the vexed issue of who would lead the Astana team in 2009.

He is one of four contenders along with Spain's Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour de France winner and only the fifth rider in history to win all of cycling's three major Tours.

I have been around long enough to know that cycling is a team sport and I am fully committed to supporting the strongest rider in any race

Lance Armstrong

But Armstrong said it was too early for decisions to be made: "It is illogical to pre-select a leader for any race in October of the previous year.

"We are blessed at Astana to have the strongest team in the world and I look forward to riding with all of these great riders.

"I have been around long enough to know that cycling is a team sport and I am fully committed to supporting the strongest rider in any race. Whether that's me, Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer, or Andreas Kloden."

Armstrong is already committed to the Giro d'Italia in May, and team boss Johan Bruyneel said his friend was "50-50" to also race in the Tour.

The Belgian added: "We have to see if he is physically able to cope with it. Personally, I think he is capable. He is in better shape than in 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."

Armstrong will end a three-and-a-half-year absence from the sport when he rides in the Tour Down Under in Australia in January.

The American has traditionally avoided the Giro when warming up for the Tour and he has admitted the Italian race could be the only three-week stage race he will compete in next summer.

The Italian race is one of cycling's three grand tours - along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) - and it ends five weeks before Le Tour begins on 5 July.

Armstrong initially looked set to launch a bid for an eighth title in France but it was met with a less than enthusiastic response from Tour organisers.

His former mentor, and five-time Tour winner, Eddy Merckx has also said he is convinced that Armstrong will not compete as taking part in the Giro and the Tour in the same year will be too much.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has refused to be drawn on the issue, again offering a guarded response to the prospect of Armstrong's return to the race.

"It is up to him to decide whether he wants to come or not," he said.

"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."

The 2009 route is aimed at keeping the suspense going to the very end of the race, and Jean-Francois Pescheux, who helped design the course, stated: "The Ventoux will blow things up."

Riders will cover around 2,141 miles, including 20 major mountain climbs, with Mont Ventoux - a 7.6 average gradient over 21.2km - providing a gruelling challenge so in the closing stages.

The outcome of the Tour is usually decided in the final time trial but next year, the solo effort against the clock will take place three days before the arrival in Paris.

This year's winner, Carlos Sastre of Spain, said the route was so tough he would "not even think of winning."

But Contador said: "The more I look at the map, the more I like [the route].

"I really think that everything will be decided before Mont Ventoux, but for the one wearing the yellow jersey at that moment, there will be a terrible pressure."

The 2009 Tour de France, 4-26 July:

Monaco - Monaco, 15 km (individual time trial)
Monaco - Brignoles, 182 km
Marseille - La Grande-Motte, 196 km
Montpellier, 38 km (team time-trial)
Le Cap d'Agde - Perpignan, 197 km
Girona (Spain) - Barcelona (Spain), 175 km
Barcelona - Andorra 224 km
Andorra-la-Vieille - Saint-Girons, 176 km
Saint-Gaudens - Tarbes, 160 km
Rest day at Limoges
Limoges - Issoudun, 193 km
Vatan - Saint-Fargeau, 192 km
Tonnerre - Vittel, 200 km
Vittel - Colmar, 200 km
Colmar - Besançon, 199 km
Pontarlier - Verbier (Suisse), 207 km
Rest day at Verbier
Martigny (Switzerland) - Bourg-Saint-Maurice, 160 km
Bourg-Saint-Maurice - Le Grand-Bornand, 169 km
Annecy - Annecy, 40 km (individual time trial)
Bourgoin-Jallieu - Aubenas, 195 km
Montélimar - Mont Ventoux, 167 km
Montereau-Fault-Yonne - Paris Champs-Elysées, 160 km

see also
Contador to continue with Astana
18 Oct 08 |  Cycling
Armstrong comeback gets go-ahead
08 Oct 08 |  Cycling
Armstrong to return with Astana
24 Sep 08 |  Cycling
Mixed reaction to Armstrong news
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling
Armstrong to make shock comeback
10 Sep 08 |  Cycling

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