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Lance stays out of trouble in return

1/18/2009

ADELAIDE, Australia -- Seven-time Tour de France
champion Lance Armstrong finished in the middle of the field in
his comeback to professional cycling on Sunday after a
conservative ride in the Tour Down Under's criterium.

The 37-year-old Texan, who retired after his final Tour
victory in 2005, made no attempt to try to win the 32-mile race
around the city streets of Adelaide, sticking to the middle of
the peloton and finishing 64th out of the 133 starters.

"It's fun to get back in there, it felt good," he told
reporters. "I have trained a lot for this comeback and this
race.

"I am glad the first day is over and we can now get into the
races."

Armstrong said his only goal had been to make it the finish
line without crashing in a hectic race better suited to the
sprinters.

"I think the last time I did that fast a race was back in
probably 1990," Armstrong said. "I found it a little bit safer
and easier in the back.

"I was a little nervous in the corners but the hardest thing
was the sun, in one corner you had the sun in your eyes.

"Now I can relax a little bit more. There was a lot of
anxiety before today."

An estimated crowd of 138,000 people lined the track to
watch the race, which was run at breakneck speed in temperatures
reaching 91 degrees.

Australia's Robbie McEwen, a three-time winner of the Tour
de France's green jersey for sprinters, won the race in just
over an hour after riding near Armstrong during the early
stages.

"I went and said g'day to him in the first 10 laps of the
race. He was just happy to be there," the Australian said.

"He was cruising along, no worries, just trying to stay out
of trouble."

Armstrong's Astana team head Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong
had done everything expected of him on his first day back on the
job.

"This is a special day. There's been a lot of talk since
August about his comeback and finally it's a fact," Bruyneel
said.

"The instructions for Lance and the whole team were not to
worry about the race and just get to the finish without crashes.

"I could see he was relaxed in the peloton and enjoying it.

"For him it was an important moment, he could finally put
that number on his back and do a race and now he's a racer
again, he's not just a guy who is training for a comeback."

Armstrong has repeatedly said the main reason for his
comeback was to promote cancer awareness but has not ruled out
the possibility of an eighth Tour de France win.

Bruyneel has warned against expectations of a fairytale win
in the Tour Down Under, a six-day, 500-mile race that officially
starts on Tuesday, but said Armstrong would get much better as
the season progressed.

"It's definitely not our ambition or intention to win here, but if Lance feels good at a certain stage he will want to test
himself," Bruyneel said.

"We think he's good enough to be in the front group but
really to go for the win, it's way too early and it wouldn't be
realistic, he needs some more time.

"But he's a competitor and if he wasn't confident about
being competitive again he wouldn't have done this."