September 26, 2008 – Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner, held a press conference at Interbike on Thursday, Sept. 25 to announce more details regarding his plans to return to the pro peloton next year with Astana. But the press conference took a bizarre turn when he opened the floor to questions and the first one out of the gate was Greg LeMond, another former Tour de France winner who has clashed frequently with Armstrong.
LeMond seemed to surprise everyone at the packed press conference by immediately attacking the credibility of Armstrong’s public drug testing plans which will be posted online under the direction of Don Caitlin, who used to run the UCLA anti-doping labratory.
After a long and involved question from LeMond, which was followed by an answer from Catlin, Armstrong interrupted LeMond saying, “I realize you’re here to make a show and you’ve made your point. Next question.”
The press conference continued and then LeMond asked another lengthy question, at which time Armstrong turned to Taylor Phinney, seated beside him at the head table, and said “Can you believe this guy?”
“Let’s face it,” said LeMond, “The Tour has had a major problem and is basically on it’s death bed.” Armstrong interjected commenting, “I almost wish we had a fourth seat up here.” Then added in an attempt to stop LeMond, “Thank you. Greg. Thank you.”
Aside from the tension of LeMond’s presence and questions, the press conference was highlighted by Armstrong’s announcement that he will race the Amgen Tour of California. In addition he’ll be at the Tour of Australia and then head to training camp before racing the ToC in February 2009.
Armstrong had competed at a pair of mountain bike events over the past couple of months and then made his return to top-level racing on Wednesday night when he was on the start line at the ‘Cross Vegas race, where he placed 22nd. It capped off a long day for Armstrong that included a press conference in New York City that morning followed by a flight to Las Vegas for the evening ‘Cross Vegas event.
At the start of Thursday’s press conference at the Sands Expo Armstrong initially quipped, “There have been a couple of updates since yesterday. I changed my mind. Just kidding,” he said smiling. “It crossed my mind about 20 minutes into the cross race.”
By joining Astana, Armstrong will be reunited with long time director Johan Bruyneel. “I couldn’t imagine racing against Johan or without him,” he said. Asked about the potential conflict with current Astana team leader Alberto Contador, Armstrong said he’s willing to accept whatever role he’s given. “I wouldn’t expect to be the leader in any race if I wasn’t the strongest rider on the team. I’ll follow the order of the team and the director,” he said.
Interestingly, Armstrong won’t be paid for his role on the team. Therefore, there’s no contract beyond his word of racing in 2009.
“There’s no contract because there’s no salary and no bonus. This is a donation. It’s a compaign,” he said.
Armstrong is using his return to professional cycling as a way to promote his fight against cancer. He didn’t go into detail, but the Livestrong logo will be on the Astana jerseys. Though Astana hasn’t been guaranteed a place at the 2009 Tour de France, it seems the relationship between Armstrong and the tour organizers is getting better.
The 2009 Tour route is scheduled to be unveiled next month and Armstrong said he’s hoping to be at that presentation. “I’m trying to juggle my schedule to be in France for the route unveiling. I want to be there,” he said.