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Originally published Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cycling | Lance Armstrong decides to ride in Tour

Lance Armstrong said he will ride in the 2009 Tour de France, marking the first time he will compete in that race and the Giro d'Italia...

AUSTIN, Texas — Lance Armstrong said he will ride in the 2009 Tour de France, marking the first time he will compete in that race and the Giro d'Italia in the same year.

"I'm committed to riding for the best guy," Armstrong said Monday, acknowledging the taxing schedule could leave him riding in a supporting role in France.

The Giro runs from May 9 to 31, and the Tour de France begins July 4.

With a rather short gap between two grueling races, the seven-time Tour de France champion acknowledged his body might not perform at the same level it did when he won his last Tour in 2005.

"If you've been away for three or four years, it would be silly for anybody to think I could pick up where I left off," the 37-year-old Armstrong told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where the Astana team is training.

"I can tell you I feel better than ever, I feel stronger than ever on December 1. How that translates to racing, we'll have to see. Mentally, in terms of motivation, this feels like 1998, 1999 to me."

Armstrong's decision to ride gives powerhouse Astana a superstar lineup in France, including 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador. Contador missed last year's race because Astana was barred from riding for previous doping violations.

Also riding with Astana is Germany's Andreas Kloeden, American veteran Levi Leip-

heimer and top support rider Yaroslav Popovych. Astana is considered by far the strongest multistage team.

"We'll abide by the same code that I do: cycling is team sport, while we'd all like to win," Armstrong said.

In September, Armstrong announced he was ending his three-year retirement. He said his goal was to race in the Tour, but stopped short of a guarantee.

Pierre Bordry, French anti-doping agency chief, would not comment on Armstrong's decision but did say "he will treated like everyone else" when it comes to drug testing.

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In recent interviews, Armstrong revealed worries about his personal safety while riding the open roads of France or through the throngs of fans that pack some parts of the route.

The Tour has a police force to guard each stage and ensure safety, and French police paid particular attention to Armstrong's safety when he was riding. In recent years, organizers have taken additional steps to protect riders.

Armstrong dismissed potential threats Monday: "It's not going to keep me from going and doing my job, and it's not going to keep me from spreading my message."

He has dedicated his comeback to raising awareness for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and his global fight against cancer.

Armstrong is to return to elite racing Jan. 20 for the Tour Down Under in Australia.

Note

Kayle Leogrande, who sued the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency seeking to prevent the group from completing a drug test on him, received a two-year doping ban.

Leogrande, 31, sued the USADA in January, seeking an injunction to prevent the agency from testing his backup urine sample after the original "A" sample came back negative.

USADA scrapped plans to test the backup sample, and the suit was dismissed. But the agency continued with the doping case and wound up with a "nonanalytical positive" — proof of doping through witnesses, documentation and other evidence. A three-person arbitration panel ruled unanimously that Leogrande had used the blood-booster EPO.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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