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Armstrong cheers for Landis or other American to win

7/19/2006

L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France -- Lance Armstrong says it's crucial
that Floyd Landis win the Tour de France for the continued
development of cycling in the United States.

"It's great for American cycling, and I'd love to see the
jersey stay in the States," said Armstrong, who retired last
summer after the last of his record seven Tour wins.

The Texan's success boosted the popularity of the sport hugely
in America, but there were fears that people back home would lose
interest once he was gone.

Armstrong says a win by the 30-year-old Landis can help maintain
the sport's high profile until a new American hope arrives -- especially since Landis' injured hip could force him out of the
sport.

"It's very important, there's a couple of ways you can figure
that out," Armstrong said. "You can look at the TV ratings. You
can look at the industry, you can look at youth participation,
which is essentially the most important."

Landis held the overall leader's yellow jersey by 10 seconds
over Oscar Pereiro of Spain heading into Wednesday's 16th stage -- the second of three tough Alpine climbs. Other rivals, such as
Andreas Kloeden of Germany, Carlos Sastre of Spain and Russia's
Denis Menchov were more than 2 minutes back.

With a time trial looming Saturday -- a favored discipline for
Landis -- he is well set to become only the third American to win
the Tour, after Armstrong and Greg Lemond.

"Americans and American sports fans need their guys to be
successful, people they can understand and relate to," Armstrong
said Tuesday, addressing a small group of reporters in the Alpine
mountain resort of L'Alpe d'Huez. "I think for the success of
cycling in the States it's very important."

Landis and Armstrong both admit they were never the best of
friends when together on the U.S. Postal team for three years
between 2001-04.

On last year's Tour, tensions mounted and they had a heated
argument during a stage race. Armstrong says the relationship has
since thawed.

"Just for the record, I know Floyd and I have gone through this
whole cycle of 'on the team, off the team', a little friction here
and there," Armstrong said. "I don't think it was ever as bad as
some people thought."

He said he considers Landis to be "hard-headed."

"I mean that in a good way," said Armstrong. "He's really
tough."

Armstrong rode to the summit of the famous L'Alpe d'Huez
climb on Monday with Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal. He looked fit and is in training for November's New York marathon but declined to speculate on whether he could have won this year's
race.

"That would just be theorizing or guessing. I'm sitting here
as the retired guy that would be the lantern rouge [last
overall] in this Tour," the 34-year-old said.

"That's the reality. It wouldn't be fair to the people who
win to say if I could have won.

"I'm still a fit guy but I'm not in the race and don't want
to be. So let somebody else win, let somebody be the be the new
champ and wear yellow. It's somebody else's race now."

Armstrong said he was in France to help defend cycling after
the recent Spanish doping investigation in which nine Tour
riders, including favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were
implicated forcing them to withdraw from the race.

"I came here as a fan because I think the sport needs fans
to say 'okay, rough start to the Tour, another black eye but I
don't think it's the time to run from the sport.'

"Now is the time to stand up and support cycling," he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.