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'Hungry' Armstrong back in the saddle

THREE years after retiring as a seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong is ready to race.

The 37-year-old cancer survivor said he is "hungry and motivated" to launch an audacious comeback at the Tour Down Under beginning today in Adelaide, Australia.

Armstrong settled nerves agitated by the long layoff when he raced in a criterium warmup to the tour on Sunday, finishing 64th among 133 riders. For the next six days he will test the wisdom of his comeback on the hills and in the heat.

His expectations for his first professional tour since the 2005 Tour de France are "modest" ?? he insists he doesn't expect to win ?? but says his "competitive juices" will be flowing and high personal standards will shun failure.

"Failure would be a broken collarbone," he said. "If I were the first guy dropped on Tuesday that would be a failure. That would not be good.

"But I don't have any clear ambitions of standards in my mind. To me it's successful just being here and getting into racing earlier than I would have. I have a job to do and my job is to train hard and try to be the best bike rider I can be and take this (anti-cancer) message around the world ?? and it kicks off here."

Today's first stage curls 140 kilometers from Norwood to Mawson Lakes, and includes climbs to a peak of 400 meters, a relatively gentle welcome back to road racing for Armstrong.

It may be Saturday's fifth stage, which takes in the Willunga Hill, which proves whether he has the legs as well as the heart and passion to make his return more than a footnote to a great career.

"I still go in with modest expectations mixed with nerves, mixed with excitement," Armstrong said. "I'm not a slacker but with no major goals other than make it through and get back into the rhythm of racing.

"Those juices are flowing through me even in a local race in Austin (Texas). You're looking around, you're not sure if it's excitement or nervousness ?? we call them butterflies. That's healthy and if I didn't have that then I probably shouldn't be here."

Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's close friend and the head of the Astana team, has worked hard to manage expectations for his lead rider but also knows him too well to rule out a miracle.

"It is not our ambition or intention to win this race," Bruyneel said. "But if Lance feels good at a certain stage he'll want to test himself. I think he's good enough to be in the front group. If he wasn't serious about doing this he wouldn't be here."


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