Armstrong more prominent in Stage 2

ADELAIDE, Australia -- Two days into his first professional cycling race in three years and after a hard day at the Tour Down Under, Lance Armstrong said Wednesday he was having "a helluva good time."

However, the 37-year-old has no illusions that his return to cycling -- focused on his attempt in June to win his eighth Tour de France -- will be dictated by age and condition.

"The comeback, so to speak, is at least a year," he said. "It's not three or four, I don't think, but it could be two years. I've got to get through the first part of this season and then decide.

"There are other things, too, that need to fall into place but primarily my condition and how this all feels and how the campaign [to raise cancer awareness] unfolds."

Armstrong said he had been given no cause to reconsider the wisdom of his comeback in the two stages so far of the Tour Down Under.

He rode 90 miles in blast-furnace heat on Tuesday and another 92 miles in cooler conditions Wednesday, but found no cause on either day to question his decision to return.

"I came in fairly open-minded," he said. "I didn't know what to expect in terms of the crowds and the reaction and my condition in the race. Overall, I'm pleased. I said at the beginning I'm glad I made this decision I made and I maintain that statement.

"I can't ask for anything more. I'm having fun in the race so I can't complain about much."

Armstrong took a quiet part in the first stage Tuesday, finishing officially 120th of 133 riders in the race in South Australia.

He was more aggressive and more prominent Wednesday, riding near the front of the main bunch and taking part in two late breakaways, one, audaciously, with a rider half his age.

"I said all along if I were there and I had the opportunity I would definitely make my presence felt in the race," he said.

Armstrong finished 45th overall Wednesday, 13 seconds behind stage winner Allan Davis of Australia. He looked fit and confident and even briefly pushed his black and gold bike out in front of the pack.

"It was fun to be out in front of a race again," he said. "As they say over here it was good to give it a twist, to give it a crack.

"It's going to take a while to adapt to race speed, I've said that since I got here and today proved that," he added. "Those long drags uphill were never my strong suit but having been out of competition and you get in the race and it's fast and guys are strong it's a suffer-fest. You suffer when you get to those moments."

Armstrong said he is prepared to do just that if that's what it takes to return to his peak.

"I like to suffer, although it sounds weird," he said. "I know why I'm doing this, I want to be doing it and I'm having a good time. If I wasn't having fun I would pack it in."