Armstrong to ride as support


ROME -- Lance Armstrong will ride in support of teammate Levi Leipheimer in the Giro d'Italia, saying he is not ready to contend for the title.

The seven-time Tour de France winner broke his collarbone in a crash in March and hopes to win at least one stage of the Giro, which begins Saturday in Venice.

"While at the beginning of the year my objective was to contend, with the crash I'm not sure I still can," Armstrong said Tuesday at a meeting with Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, to support his campaign against cancer.

"Before that I was ahead of schedule. Now we're behind schedule. I have to go into the Giro knowing I'm not a contender for the overall. But we have a rider who is going for the overall, and I'll ride for him," Armstrong said.

Armstrong already helped Leipheimer win the Tour of Gila in New Mexico last week and the Tour of California at the beginning of the season.

Still, Armstrong was coy when asked what will happen if Astana is in position to win the team time trial Saturday. The first rider that crosses the line for the winning team will take the leader's pink jersey.

"I don't know. Johan decides that," Armstrong said, referring to Johan Bruyneel, Astana's team director, who also guided the American in his Tour de France victories.

"I would be disappointed if I didn't win one stage. I don't care if it's a mountain stage or a time trial," Armstrong said. "I assume I'll get better as the race goes on. I'm still recovering from the crash."

Armstrong, who fought through testicular cancer before he began to dominate cycling, met with cancer patients at a children's hospital before heading to the foreign ministry.

Armstrong returned this season after 3½ years of retirement. Since the crash and surgery, he trained for several weeks in Aspen, Colo., and finished second behind Leipheimer at the Tour of Gila.

"We had a tough week. The race was tough in New Mexico and I've been at elevation for a month, so I'm just trying to come over here now and recover from the travel," he said. "It took a long time to get here yesterday."

Armstrong went for a training ride Tuesday morning along the coast near Rome, including some hills.

Meanwhile, Armstrong's old nemesis Filippo Simeoni walked into the Italian cycling federation's offices Monday and handed in his Italian champion's jersey. Simeoni is upset that his small Ceramica Flaminia team was not invited to the Giro. Ceramica Flaminia appealed unsuccessfully to the International Cycling Union to intervene.

Armstrong managed to enter the Tour of Gila despite a UCI rule that bars top professional teams like Astana from sending organized squads to national-level races.

"I do not run [Giro organizer] RCS and I do not select the teams," Armstrong said. "I understand the media fixation, but this story goes back to 2004, and that's a long time ago. I'm more than happy to have him in the race, but I don't control that. At some point this story must die."

Giro director Angelo Zomegnan also denied that Armstrong had anything to do with Simeoni's exclusion.

"It's just media speculation," Zomegnan told The Associated Press. "Armstrong and I never spoke about Simeoni. The invitations are for teams and Simeoni's team is not good enough for the Giro."

Armstrong is interested in creating his own team, but he is having trouble finding financing.

"If we had the support and sponsors and financing, we would," he said, noting some problems with Astana's finances. "We don't have the funding today."