Tour: Astana welcome as long as team remains clean
PARIS -- Lance Armstrong can try for an eighth Tour de France title -- if his team is clean in the run-up to cycling's premier race.
A day after Armstrong confirmed his comeback with the Astana squad, Tour director Christian Prudhomme cleared up any doubts over whether the team would be allowed to race next year. Astana was barred from the 2008 Tour because of past doping violations.
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"They should be there if there are no ethical problems," Prudhomme told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. "They weren't at any of our races in 2008. If nothing happens in the coming months, they should be at our races in 2009."
To help persuade any doubters that he is clean, Armstrong said Thursday he's hired anti-doping expert Don Catlin to test him anytime, anywhere -- and to post the results online for the world to see.
Prudhomme said he isn't sure whether Armstrong can still win after three years away from the sport or how next year's race will play out with the Texan -- so dominant in winning seven straight from 1999 to 2005 -- back in the cycling pack.
But this much Prudhomme is certain of: Almost everyone is talking about the cancer survivor's surprise comeback, even in remote regions of France, a country where Armstrong has long stirred mixed emotions.
Prudhomme said he spent Wednesday at a race in western France, the Tour of Poitou-Charentes, and that "practically the whole day, people spoke to me about the return of Lance Armstrong."
"The fact that he is a star ... means that this touches everyone," he said.
Prudhomme said it was too early to say whether the extra attention generated by Armstrong will prove good or bad for the Tour, which has been beset by doping scandals in recent years. He said he wants to ensure the race retains its "humanity" -- meaning that riders appear to be making a real effort and not just flying up tough mountain passes as they seemingly did when doping was more widespread.
"If you have that humanity with Lance Armstrong, then we will have a very beautiful Tour de France," Prudhomme said.
The 2009 Tour sets off July 4 from the wealthy principality of Monaco on the Mediterranean coast. The rest of the three-week route will be unveiled next month. Prudhomme refused to reveal details but said this year's itinerary "will allow for suspense right until the end."
Armstrong will ride five races for the Astana team, including the Tour de France and the Tour Down Under in January in Adelaide, Australia.
But he didn't rule out competing in the Giro d'Italia for the first time. The 2009 Giro is scheduled for May 9-31.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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