Armstrong finishes in pack in comeback race

American cyclist Lance Armstrong finished 64th out of the 133 starters in the Tour Down Under's criterium. The race marked Seven-times Tour de France champion return to competition.


REUTERS - Seven-times Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong finished in the middle of the field in his comeback to professional cycling on Sunday after a conservative ride in the Tour Down Under's criterium.


The 37-year-old Texan, who retired after his final Tour victory in 2005, made no attempt to try to win the 51-km race around the city streets of Adelaide, sticking to the middle of the peloton and finishing 64th out of the 133 starters.


"It's fun to get back in there, it felt good," he told reporters. "I have trained a lot for this comeback and this race.


"I am glad the first day is over and we can now get into the races."


Armstrong said his only goal had been to make it the finish line without crashing in a hectic race better suited to the sprinters.


"I think the last time I did that fast a race was back in probably 1990," Armstrong said. "I found it a little bit safer and easier in the back.


"I was a little nervous in the corners but the hardest thing was the sun, in one corner you had the sun in your eyes.


"Now I can relax a little bit more. There was a lot of anxiety before today."


An estimated crowd of 138,000 people lined the track to watch the race, which was run at breakneck speed in temperatures reaching 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit).


Australia's Robbie McEwen, a three-times winner of the Tour de France's green jersey for sprinters, won the race in just over an hour after riding near Armstrong during the early stages.


"I went and said g'day to him in the first 10 laps of the race. He was just happy to be there," the Australian said.


"He was cruising along, no worries, just trying to stay out of trouble."


Armstrong's Astana team head Johan Bruyneel said Armstrong had done everything expected of him on his first day back on the job.


"This is a special day. There's been a lot of talk since August about his comeback and finally it's a fact," Bruyneel said.


"The instructions for Lance and the whole team were not to worry about the race and just get to the finish without crashes.


"I could see he was relaxed in the peloton and enjoying it.


"For him it was an important moment, he could finally put that number on his back and do a race and now he's a racer again, he's not just a guy who is training for a comeback."


Armstrong has repeatedly said the main reason for his comeback was to promote cancer awareness but has not ruled out the possibility of an eighth Tour de France win.


Bruyneel has warned against expectations of a fairytale win in the Tour Down Under, a six-day, 800-km race which officially starts on Tuesday, but said Armstrong would get much better as the season progressed.


"It's definitely not our ambition or intention to win here but if Lance feels good at a certain stage he will want to test himself," Bruyneel said.


"We think he's good enough to be in the front group but really to go for the win, it's way too early and it wouldn't be realistic, he needs some more time.


"But he's a competitor and if he wasn't confident about being competitive again he wouldn't have done this."


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