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Lance Armstrong back in the Pack

23rd January 2009

Lance Armstrong lies 39 seconds off the overall lead after four stages of the Tour Down Under but is ready to defy pain and fatigue in his comeback race to chase victory in its remaining two stages.

Adelaide has been invaded by a lycra-clad army of cycling enthusiasts, with the capital of South Australia feeling more like 'Planet Lance'.

In all, 133 riders from 23 countries started the race, but the focus is solely upon the 37-year-old Texan who retired in 2005 after securing his seventh victory in the Tour de France. Tourism chiefs are promoting the tour as "Your Chance to See Lance".

Adelaide has not seen anything like it since the great Donald Bradman left his native New South Wales and decided to play his cricket for South Australia, and The Australian newspaper described him as a "one-man stimulus for the South Australian economy". Lance won the Tour de France seven times.

Lance finished among the main bunch on Friday and in the same time as fourth stage winner and overall leader Allan Davis of Australia, moving up on general classification to 38th place among 124 riders remaining in the race. He battled heat, hills and strong winds for the fourth straight day of the race and he was still in a position after the fourth day to chase a victory over the weekend.

"Body was tired today, legs were tired as well," Lance said. "And for sure, they'll open up the race tomorrow. I may be crazy but I think I can be there. I know I won't be riding away."

Saturday's 92.5 mile stage from Snapper Point to Willunga includes two cruel climbs up the Willunga Hill and has been identified by experts as the stage most likely to decide the race.

Lance expects the race to suit the Australian sprinters again Saturday but will do as much as his body will allow to put himself in the race.

"This is still the first race back after a long time and I'd be kidding myself if I expected to show up and pound people. That's just not the way it's going to work."

Lance said conditions had made the race hard as a comeback event after a three-year break.

"The break, the heat, the hills, the wind and the fact it's a stage race and it's been aggressive," he said. "It's been harder than I expected but everyone will share that."

Davis took the fourth stage in a bunched sprint to the finish at Angaston, in the heart of the Barossa Valley wine region. Australian Graeme Brown, who won the third stage on Thursday, was second and Jose Rojas of Spain was third.

Though he does not think he will end up with the winner's jersey in the Tour Down Under - that would be unrealistic, he says - in six months time he may well be a world-beater again.

Lance has his determined glare fixed on this year's Tour de France. The man who survived testicular cancer 12 years ago hopes his return to racing will boost cancer awareness - that, he says, is his primary motivation.

Lance also has a specially-designed new bike, which has been emblazoned with two numbers: 27.5, signifying the 27.5 million people who have died of cancer since the 2005 Tour de France; and 1274 - the number of days which have passed since his last professional race.

Even if he were to come fifth in the Tour de France, he said, he would still have deemed his comeback a success if he managed to raise global awareness about cancer.

From a sporting perspective, he admitted there was a risk to his legacy. "I'm willing to take that risk," he said. "From a human perspective and from a cause perspective, I think it's well worth the sporting risk."

The race concludes on Sunday with a 56-mile circuit around the streets of central Adelaide, the South Australia state capital.

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