It is official. Cycling legend Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement.
Armstrong, who turns 37 on Sept. 18, confirmed Tuesday that he will return to the road racing circuit, likely on a limited basis.
"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," said Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer and had a brain tumour surgically removed in 1996.
"This year alone, nearly eight million people will die of cancer worldwide. It's now time to address cancer on a global level."
Vanity Fair's website later published an excerpt from an upcoming article in which Armstrong is quoted as saying, "I'm going to try and win an eighth Tour de France."
VeloNews reported Monday that Armstrong, who retired on July 24, 2005, plans to compete in five road races — the Amgen Tour of California, Paris Nice Cycling Race, Tour de Georgia, Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and, of course, the Tour de France, which he won a record seven times in a row (1999-2005) before retiring on July 24, 2005.
Competing in the Tour de France "is the intention," Armstrong's spokesman, Mark Higgins, told the Associated Press. "But we have got some homework to do over there."
"We're not going to try to win second place," noted Armstrong's lawyer, Bill Stapleton.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reiterated Tuesday that Armstrong is a part of its out-of-competition testing pool and is eligible to return to elite competition on Feb. 1, 2009 — two weeks before the Amgen.
Armstrong reportedly is willing to submit to stringent drug testing — he has never tested positive — and he has hired a film crew to document his every move.
"There is this perception in cycling that this generation is now the cleanest generation we have had in decades, if not forever, and the generation that I raced with was the dirty generation," Armstrong said. "So there is a nice element here where I can come with really a completely comprehensive program and there will be no way to cheat."
"It may be that he has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder because of the accusations and rumours surrounding him, none of which were ever proven," said Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union. "And he wants to come back and show that, now that there is a new system in place which is the biological passport, which can show any type of manipulation of the blood, he wants to come back and show that he is the athlete he claims he was, that his results have shown."
Armstrong with Team Astana?
Anonymous sources told VeloNews that Armstrong plans to join Team Astana, reuniting him with former U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel.
That has yet to be confirmed and, though Team Astana press officer Phillippe Maertens downplayed the notion in a phone interview earlier Tuesday, he left the door open for Armstrong.
"If it would be true that Armstrong wants to come back, it would be stupid for us to say no," Maertens said.
"For me, it is just a rumour, although I will have to speak with him," Bruyneel told Spanish news agency EFE.
Team Astana was prohibited from competing in this year's Tour de France after Alexandre Vinokourov was disqualified for a positive drug test in 2007, and the team's subsequent decision to withdraw from the race.
If, for any reason, Armstrong isn't invited to race in next year's Tour, he will appeal directly to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I have already put a call in to him," Armstrong said.
Armstrong has stayed fit in retirement, running the New York City Marathon in 2006 and 2007 and completing the Boston Marathon on April 21.
Last month, he was runner-up to Dave Wiens in the Leadville 100, a 161-kilometre mountain bike race in Colorado.
"This kind of obscure bike race totally kick-started my engine," he said in Vanity Fair. "For me, it has always been about the process.
"The process of getting there is the best part. Obviously, beautiful territory and fresh air, just feeling fit, losing weight, getting strong, living a very healthy lifestyle. I thought, 'This might be fun to try again.'"