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Armstrong comeback 'on track'

LANCE Armstrong says his comeback remains on track despite fading from contention in the Tour Down Under after a tough fifth stage yesterday.

Australian Allan Davis won the 148-kilometer stage, posting his third stage win of the tour, to increase his overall lead to 25 seconds entering today's final, 90-kilometer stage around Adelaide city streets.

Armstrong finished 23rd yesterday, on the same time as the winner, and lies 29th overall, 49 seconds behind Davis, as he nears the end of his first multistage race in 3 1/2 years.

He said he felt "pretty good...better than yesterday" at the end of the ride from Snapper Point to Willunga and took a key role in leading an attempt to ride down a two-man break on the second grueling climb up Willunga Hill.

"I didn't have the needed punch to make a difference, but we were there and, I guess, going in that's what I kind of hoped for, so no complaints," Armstrong said.

Armstrong next rides in the Tour of California which, he said, would be harder than the Australian race - "longer climbs, steeper climbs.

"After (this) race if you recover properly, get over your trip back home, you might get 10 percent out of it so then I'll be that much stronger."

Armstrong said his performance in the Tour Down Under had fallen somewhere between meeting and exceeding his expectations.

"I was curious," he said. "I could have come in with expectations that could be completely unrealistic, not having the experience the last 3 1/2 years.

"I expected - just based on training, based on the power I saw in training, based on how I felt after five hours of training - to be in the first queue on the climbs which, I guess, I can say I was able to do," he added.

Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, said there had been tough days on the tour but he had always expected a comeback at age 37 to be challenging.

Davis will likely wrap up the tour today after stretching his lead in stage five to 25 seconds over Australian compatriot Stuart O'Grady and 30 seconds over young Spaniard Jose Rojas. Davis had twice been a runner-up in this event.

Armstrong said Davis' own comeback, after an 18-month battle to clear himself from the stain of a Spanish doping investigation, was remarkable.

"He's a great story," he said. "He's back, clearly, and if you look at the results, he's been invincible here."


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