Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is back in competitive action after breaking his collarbone in a race in Spain last month.
Armstrong required intricate surgery after a crash in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon on March 23 and doubts were raised he would be fit in time for his bid for an eighth victory in the Tour. But the 37-year-old has displayed his legendary determination to return ahead of schedule and rode the first day of the Tour of Gila in New Mexico on Wednesday. Armstrong and Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer are taking part in the five-stage race, but riding for their local sponsors. The first stage covered 154 kilometers from Silver City to Mogollon with a nasty uphill finish, and it was Armstrong who set up Leipheimer for his victory, riding strongly at the front in the closing stages. His work done, Armstrong was content to coast over the line in eighth place, one minute 40 seconds behind the in-form Leipheimer. “Stage 1 of Gila done,” Amstrong told his Twitter blog. “Levi Leipheimer cruises to victory. I didn’t feel so bad myself for first race back after the crash.” Armstrong, who is being assessed for fitness by his old mentor and Astana team chief Johan Bruyneel, is still hoping to ride in the Giro d’Italia which starts on May 9. Then he will return to the United States to complete his preparations for the Tour de France where he is set to battle Astana teammates Leipheimer and 2007 champion Alberto Contador for overall honors. The cycling legend, who battled cancer before dominating the Tour de France, announced he would return to competitive cycling last year after a three year absence.