Armstrong Finishes 3rd With No Regrets

By  | 

AVIGNON, France (AP) -- Lance Armstrong has no regrets about finishing third at the Tour de France.

On the eve of the final ceremonial stage on the Champs-Elysees, the seven-time champion told The Associated Press in an interview on Saturday he did as well as could be expected.

He offered high praise for his Astana teammate Alberto Contador, who was headed for his second Tour title.

Armstrong said that even at his peak while winning the tour from 1999-2005, he may have lost to his Spanish teammate.

"Contador is that good, so I don't see how I would have been higher than that," he said.

Armstrong returned to the Tour after a 3 1/2-year retirement. The 37-year-old American was second at one point this year after missing the yellow jersey by a fraction of a second.

Of 26-year-old Contador, Armstrong said: "I think his performance this year would have beaten my performances in '01, and '04 and '05."

He added that Spaniard was even better than Jan Ullrich, one of Armstrong's biggest rivals during the years that he won his seven Tours.

"Absolutely," he said. "Far better."

Armstrong, however, expects to perform better in 2010, and perhaps even beat Contador.

"I'm staying positive," Armstrong said. "My level will be a little better next year. If he has the same level next year that he has this year, difficult to beat him. That's just a fact, a scientific fact."

But Armstrong expects to come to the Tour with a strong team, including Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloeden, and together they could challenge Contador.

"There's a lot of variables there," said Armstrong. "My condition, his condition, team tactics, tactics of the race ... But that's why we do the race, so we know."

Aside from his crash in March when he broke his collarbone, Armstrong, who was expected to ride the Tour next year with his new team Radio Shack, said he was happy with the way his comeback turned out.

"I wouldn't change anything about my performance, the tactics, about the preparation," he said in the interview in his hotel room. "Sure, we'll change some things next year but looking back at this season, we did everything we wanted to do."

Before Sunday's largely ceremonial ride into Paris, Contador all but sealed his second Tour de France victory by keeping the yellow jersey on Saturday's punishing penultimate stage. Armstrong remained in third overall, 5 minutes, 24 seconds behind.

Asked about what will be his future beyond 2010, Armstrong said he would still be involved in cycling and in the fight against cancer.

"I mean, the two passions in my life, aside from my family, are cycling and cancer," the cancer survivor said. "And I've got to stay involved in both of those. My life needs those things. And, I think, those things need me."

Following his last Tour victory in 2005, Armstrong railed against the "cynics and the skeptics" who didn't believe his triumphs were doping-free.

"There was a ton of doubters, and a ton of critics, negative people in the press room, I was sick of that. They are still there. I don't think they are as many as they were, but they are still there."

A month after his retirement, L'Equipe sports daily reported that Armstrong's B samples from the 1999 Tour contained EPO -- a banned blood-boosting hormone. Armstrong insisted back then that he was the victim of a "witch hunt," and a Dutch lawyer appointed by the UCI later cleared him.

Armstrong said his third place on this year's Tour could help silence his doubters.

"If you are on a fence and you are objective about it, and you look at a 38-year old athlete, tested fifty-plus times this year, more than anybody else ... the only thing you can say is you have a super secret mystery drug."

He then dismissed his doubters with a profanity.