Armstrong will race Giro, but Tour de France up in air

ROME -- Lance Armstrong has expressed doubts about racing in next year's Tour de France.

The American, who agreed Monday to ride in next year's Giro d'Italia, said in an interview published Tuesday that he may not go for an eighth Tour de France title after all.

"There are still doubts for the Tour. Everyone knows its importance, but the problems that I have with the organizers, journalists and fans could distract me from my mission -- focusing the world's attention on the battle against cancer," Armstrong said in Gazzetta dello Sport.

The 37-year-old Armstrong announced last month that he is returning to cycling after three years in retirement, and he wants to draw more attention to his global campaign to fight cancer, a disease he survived before winning seven straight Tours from 1999-2005.

Armstrong has feuded for years with Tour de France officials over drug-testing issues, but Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has said he and the Astana team will be allowed to race next year as long as they avoid doping problems. Astana was banned from this year's Tour.

"I hope there's a diplomatic and peaceful solution," Armstrong said. "Before announcing my return, I contacted the organizers but I still haven't had a response."

The 100th anniversary edition of the Giro is scheduled for May 9-31. The Tour de France starts July 4.

"Anything is possible, but I would find it incredible," Armstrong said of the possibility that the Tour would not invite him. "I want to be in Paris, but in a serene situation."

Armstrong has never competed in the three-week Giro, considered the sport's most prestigious stage race after the Tour.

"I don't have any experience with this race," Armstrong said. "The other day I trained with Axel Merckx and I asked him a ton of questions. I'm excited. I'm certainly coming to try to win, because there's a chance that the Giro is the only three-week race I'll enter."

Merckx, the son of cycling great Eddy Merckx, will lead a development team that Armstrong is starting.

Armstrong's choice to enter the Giro received a mixed reception.

Renato Di Rocco, the president of the Italian Cycling Federation, said the news "is the 100 years of the Giro, not Armstrong's return."

Filippo Simeoni, a fellow cyclist who had a well-known run-in with Armstrong at the 2004 Tour, called the American's return "pathetic."

"If I find myself next to him at the Giro, I would expect him to make a [gesture] and admit his mistake," Simeoni was quoted as saying in Rome daily La Repubblica.

The 37-year-old Simeoni won the Italian championship this year but it is unclear whether his small team Flaminia Bossini will be invited to the Giro.

Armstrong is expected to revive his rivalry with Ivan Basso at the Giro. Basso's two-year ban for doping expires later this month. The Italian finished third and second behind Armstrong in the 2004 and 2005 Tours, respectively.

"I know him as an opponent and a person," Basso said. "When he does something, he does it to excel. I don't know if he's going to race the Tour afterward, but I'm certain he'll come to the Giro to win."

Basso won the Giro in 2006 and doesn't see any reason why Armstrong would have a tough time adapting to the Italian race.

"He won the Tour seven times under every sort of condition," Basso said. "The inclines are different but the winning formula is the same in all stage races."

Damiano Cunego, the 2004 Giro winner, agreed.

"He's certainly the No. 1 favorite for the Giro," Cunego said. "Especially if there are going to be a lot of time trial kilometers."