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Armstrong will race again, but no word on Tour of California

Lance Armstrong confirmed Wednesday he's returning to competitive road cycling in 2009 but didn't confirm or deny plans to race in the Amgen Tour of California.

During a news conference, part of the Clinton Global Initiative sessions in New York, Armstrong confirmed he'll race with Team Astana in the Tour Down Under, an Australian race in January, and the Tour de France, which begins July 4 in Belgium. He also confirmed he'll ride in the Leadville 100 -- a mountain bike race -- in Colorado in August. He didn't mention plans to compete in any other races.

The Tour of California is scheduled to run Feb. 14-22 with a Feb. 17 fourth-stage finish line in Modesto and a fifth-stage start in Merced the following morning.

Armstrong said his return to racing at 37 is dedicated to raising global awareness of the battle against cancer. In a speech Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative, he announced his foundation has committed $8 million to battle cancer in Africa and South America. Immediately following the Tour de France, Armstrong will host a world summit on cancer in Paris.

Amgen, a biopharmaceutical firm based in Thousand Oaks, sponsors its own cancer-awareness project and uses the Tour of California as a platform to spread that anti-cancer message. The list of FDA-approved drugs developed by Amgen includes Vectibix, which is used in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

The company released a statement Wednesday morning applauding Armstrong's return to cycling, but the statement made no mention of any direct contact with Armstrong or commitment to the California race from the seven-time Tour de France champion.

Lance Messick, CEO of Amgen Sports, which owns and runs the Tour of California, confirmed he met with Armstrong's representatives Tuesday.

"We ... outlined a broad plan to help our Breakaway from Cancer charity and the Lance Armstrong Foundation make an important difference in the lives with those afflicted with cancer," Messick said in the statement. "It is our hope to see Lance Armstrong and his Astana teammates in our race next year."

Messick's words raised speculation in the cycling community that Armstrong's decision to race in the Tour of California might come down to Amgen making a sizable financial commitment to Armstrong's foundation.

"That statement, to me, sounds as if Amgen is pleading with Lance to race in California," said James Raia, a Sacramento-based cycling journalist. "Maybe he doesn't have what he wants yet financially from the Tour of California and from Amgen. Maybe he wants a certain amount of money for his foundation before he commits to the race, and he's waiting for the t's on the contract to be crossed.

"That's my guess."

Amgen Sports officials didn't respond to a request for a comment regarding Armstrong's demand for an appearance fee to compete in the Tour of California.

From a pure cycling standpoint, Raia believes it doesn't make sense for Armstrong to embark on a return to cycling and only compete in two international events.

"I can't imagine him getting back on his bike for only two races and then race one in January and another in July," Raia said. "There's no way he would race the Tour de France after only competing in one race six months earlier. We all have to wait and see, since there's a lot of misinformation out there."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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