Monday, October 13, 2008

Armstrong to race in 2009 Giro d'Italia

File photo shows cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/Christopher Pike)

By Mark Meadows

MILAN (Reuters) - Lance Armstrong will race in next year's Giro d'Italia for the first time as part of his cycling comeback, the seven-times Tour de France winner said on Monday.

The 37-year-old, who retired in 2005, will compete in the May 9-31 race before bidding for an eighth Tour title in July.

"I will give my utmost, and not only to prepare for the Tour," Armstrong said in a statement.

"Not having taken part in the Giro was one of my biggest regrets as a rider. Finally I will be able to do it. For five years I lived in Como and I am very excited to return to Italy."

The American will start his comeback in January's Tour Down Under in Australia after being allowed to compete by the International Cycling Union (UCI) despite breaching the rules.

Riders making comebacks have to be in the UCI's anti-doping program for six months prior to racing but the governing body has made an exception for Armstrong, who announced he was returning to the sport only last month.

Armstrong, who fought off cancer and unproven doping allegations during his career, is partly making a comeback with the Astana team to promote his global cancer awareness campaign, LiveStrong.

The Giro, the second biggest stage-race after the Tour, will be celebrating its centenary next year. The route has yet to be announced.

"Lance knows very well the affection Italians have for him after the years he spent living on the banks of Lake Como," said Angelo Zomegnan, the cycling director of Giro organizers RCS Sport.

"It is an affection that is not equaled in any other European country."

Many riders opt out of racing both the Giro and the Tour because of the physical exertion required. Francesco Moser, who won the Giro in 1984, was skeptical that Armstrong could properly race in both.

"At 37 years of age, to return to racing after three years is a decision I don't understand and it seems dangerous to me. To race the Tour as well in the same year is not a simple thing," he was quoted as saying in Italian media.

(Editing by Miles Evans)

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