Armstrong survives hot Day 1

ADELAIDE, Australia -- Lance Armstrong endured his first long day in the saddle since his comeback to professional cycling Tuesday and said he felt "pretty good, pretty strong."

He also said he thought officials were kidding when they told him the first day of the six-day Tour Down Under -- his first competitive race 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 103 degrees and tested even the most fit riders, almost all of them younger than Armstrong. Though the 37-year-old officially finished 120th of 133 riders, he was happy with his first day.

"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, won the opening stage by a bike length in a crowded finish. With time bonuses collected en route, he will carry an 11-second lead into Wednesday's 90-mile second stage.

Armstrong coasted to the stage finish 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 to answer questions from the 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 [U.S. presidential] inauguration tonight, talked about the global fight against cancer."

Armstrong found the dry Australian heat sapping Tuesday but was still at home on the hills, where the 133-rider field labored on country roads rising abruptly to over 1,300 feet.

"It's hot, man, it's hot," he said. "It's a dry heat but it affects performance a lot. There's really no way to perform at a high level when it's [103] degrees.

"You just cope and drink as much as you can. I think we must have gone through maybe 15 or 20 bottles each today."

The race ends Sunday.