AUSTIN, Texas (AFP) — US cycling icon Lance Armstrong said on Tuesday he will return to professional cycling in 2009 and try to win an eighth Tour de France crown.
"I am happy to announce that after talking with my children, my family and my closest friends, I have decided to return to professional cycling in order to raise awareness of the global cancer burden," Armstrong said in a statement, while in an exclusive interview posted on vanityfair.com the 36-year-old cyclist says he has his sights set firmly on the Tour de France in 2009.
"I am going back to professional cycling. I'm going to try to win an eighth Tour de France," Armstrong told Vanity Fair.
Armstrong, who will turn 37 on September 18, cited 41-year-old US swimmer Dara Torres's Olympic comeback in Beijing as proof that age was no barrier to an elite sports career.
"Look at the Olympics," he said. "You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50m (freestyle) the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it," he told the magazine.
"The woman who won the marathon (Romanian Constantina Tomescu) was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they'll tell you age is a wives' tale."
Armstrong said he decided to tackle the Tour again in August, while competing in the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in Colorado.
Armstrong, a cancer survivor and vocal advocate for cancer patients, hopes to use his return to spread his message of support for those with the disease as well as his call for investment in cancer research.
"This year alone, nearly eight million people will die of cancer worldwide. Millions more will suffer in isolation, victims not only of the disease but of social stigma ... it's now time to address cancer on a global level," he said.
Armstrong, who won seven consecutive Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005, has vigorously denied doping accusations that have dogged him even into retirement, and told Vanity Fair that in his comeback he plans to address the issue of doping head-on by submitting to a rigorous testing regime.
"We're going to be completely transparent and open with the press," Armstrong said. "So there is a nice element here where I can come with a really completely comprehensive program and there will be no way to cheat."
Armstrong said he would discuss details of his plans for competition in 2009 on September 24 in New York City.
On Monday, cycling website VeloNews.com reported that Armstrong was poised to join the Astana team, although an Astana spokesman denied it.
In his Vanity Fair interview, Armstrong mentions Johan Bruyneel, onetime sporting director of Armstrong's US Postal and Discovery Channel teams who is now general manager of the Kazakh-backed, Luxembourg-based Astana.
Bruyneel himself said on Tuesday morning at the Tour of Spain that he thought reports of the cyclist's impending return were only "a rumour."
However, Bruyneel seemed to leave a door open for the American.
"If he were serious about a comeback ... myself having a team I could not imagine him at CSC or Rabobank," Bruyneel said.
Astana didn't appear in the 2008 Tour de France, having been barred by organizers Amaury Sport Organisation in the wake of a series of doping incidents.
Armstrong told Vanity Fair that he is already preparing a back-up plan if the ASO attempts to exclude him from the Tour - taking his case to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I've already put a call in to him," Armstrong said. "He has said strong things about me in the past."
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