Armstrong on his bike for charity

”My days of racing are done,” stressed seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (34) during a press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday. ”However, I would love to do the Argus Cycle Tour once. Is Cape Town flat?”

It was Armstrong’s first visit to South Africa and he was here to concentrate on Unite 4 Health, a corporate social investment health programme spearheaded by pharmaceutical company Adcock Ingram.

Wearing the yellow wristband of his own Lance Armstrong Foundation, with the text ”live strong” and looking all bright and relaxed, the legendary cyclist talked about his fight against testicular cancer, the allegations about him using performance-enhancing drugs, retirement and his relationship with United States President George Bush.

The Texas-born biker needed aggressive chemotherapy when doctors discovered he had testicular cancer that had already spread to his lungs and brain. But, in true American feel-good movie style, Armstrong survived and won the first of his Tours de France in 1999 with the US Postal Services team.

Because of this remarkable recovery, rumours spread that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. ”It is impossible to prove negative. What I did was fairly unbelievable.”

But just days before Armstrong boarded his private plane to Johannesburg, he enjoyed another success when a Paris court threw out a libel suit brought against him by Filippo Simeoni.

The Italian cyclist was a key witness in the drug trial of Armstrong’s former trainer, Michele Ferrari, who in 2004 was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence for malpractice. Simeoni filed for defamation after Armstrong allegedly called him ”an absolute liar” in French newspaper Le Monde.

Armstrong, now retired, does not sit still. He wrote two books, It’s Not about the Bike and Every Second Counts, and is now in talks about a movie on his life, with Matt Damon in the lead.

”I am constantly busy with speeches, commercials … I would do less, but it is hard to say no. It all adds up to a hectic life,” he said. ”I retired from playing golf too. The game takes too long for something that I am bad at.”

Most South Africans remember ”Terminator” Arnold Schwarzenegger visiting the Takalani home for the mentally disabled in Diepkloof, Soweto, in 2001. He was building towards a career in politics — he is now governor of California — and therefore visiting different charities around the world.

Armstrong also visited charities on his whistle-stop visit, but confessed he does not seek a political career. ”No, thank you. The fight against cancer, which is now the number-one killer in the States, means everything to me.”

Bush and Armstrong have known each other for 10 years, since Bush first became governor of Texas.

”He is very likeable and when I’m around him, we just have basic conversation,” said Armstrong.

”I do think he’s a good guy,; his visions are not the world’s most popular and I certainly don’t always agree with him, but we do have one passion in common: cycling.”

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Elvira Van Noort
Guest Author

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