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Armstrong happy with first day's ride

LANCE Armstrong endured his first long day in the saddle since his comeback to professional cycling yesterday and said he felt "pretty good, pretty strong."

He said he thought officials were kidding when they told him the first day of the six-day Tour Down Under - his first road stage in three years - was also the easiest.

It was nothing more, they said, than two short hill climbs and a pedal through undulating hill country on the fringe of the wine-growing Barossa Valley outside Adelaide.

But blast-furnace style winds lifted temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and tested even the fittest riders, almost all of them younger than him. Though Armstrong, 37, finished "in the back," officially 120th of 133 riders, he was happy with his first day at work.

"I feel better," he said "It's nice to get one under way and tomorrow's another hard day. I want to take it day by day but I think the early indications are that I feel pretty good, pretty strong."

Andre Greipel of Germany, the winner of last year's race, took out the first stage by a bike length in a bunch finish. With time bonuses collected en route, he will carry an 11-second lead into today's 145-kilometer second stage.

Armstrong coasted to the stage finish near the back of the peleton and, unfazed by the heat and the day's exertion, spent 20 minutes talking with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Equally at home on the bike and chatting with heads of state, the seven-time Tour de France winner tossed around thoughts on a variety of weighty topics before standing for a further 10 minutes in strong sun to answer questions from waiting media.

"We've never met," he said of Rudd. "So it's an honor not just for myself but for the race to have him here. We talked a little bit about cycling, talked a little bit about health care, talked about the (US presidential) inauguration tonight, talked about the global fight against cancer."

Armstrong found the dry Australian heat sapping yesterday but was still at home on the hills, where the 133-strong field labored on country roads rising abruptly to 400 meters.

The race ends on Sunday.


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