DENVER — Lance Armstrong took to the streets of downtown Denver on Wednesday with Gov. Bill Ritter and hundreds of citizen cyclists to celebrate the realization of his dream of bringing a major international pro-cycling stage race to Colorado next year.
It was a welcome respite for Armstrong, who is under scrutiny from federal investigators looking into cheating in professional cycling following claims by former teammate Floyd Landis that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
The exact route of the Aug. 22-28, 2011, race, called the Quiznos Pro Challenge, has not been mapped out yet, but it will include a mix of mountain, sprint and downtown stages like the old Coors Classic, which ended in 1988, Armstrong told The Associated Press in advance of the announcement on the steps of the state capitol.
Fresh off his second retirement from the Tour de France, which he won a record seven times, Armstrong said he hopes to ride in the Quiznos Pro Challenge himself, but he wasn't making any promises.
"I'm thinking about it," he told the crowd. "My days of top-level professional European cycling are certainly done. That's not to say that I can't do some events here in the U.S. or even internationally that are tied in closely to the things that I care about: fighting cancer, promoting cycling, promoting the young generation of cyclists."
Armstrong said he just doesn't know if it's smart to compete against cyclists who will be coming off the Tour de France in tiptop shape.
"So, three weeks later, do I, not having done the Tour and not having trained like them, want to jump in?" Armstrong asked. "It's not that easy to just jump in with them for a week. So, would I like to? Yes. Would I be fit enough? Probably not. But we'll see. Never say never."
Absent from the race announcement was any mention of the probe by federal investigators in Los Angeles spurred by accusations from Landis in a series of e-mails sent to cycling and doping officials this spring in which he said the use of banned substances was common on the US Postal team.
Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive test and later admitted doping. His allegations against Armstrong and others helped launch the federal investigation. Armstrong has never tested positive and denies any involvement in doping.
In the interview with the AP in advance of the race announcement, Armstrong declined to discuss the federal investigation, politely saying he had "nothing to say" about the matter. A moderator at the news conference at the capitol said Armstrong would only take questions about the race itself.
Afterward, Armstrong invited the crowd of cycling enthusiasts to join him on a celebratory bike ride.
"I'm wearing the most controversial jersey in cycling right now," said Armstrong, who donned the black "28" jersey that Tour officials banned him from wearing on the final stage of his last Tour de France. The figure was chosen to honor 28 million people fighting cancer, one of the themes Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation focuses on.
Armstrong is helping to plan the Quiznos Pro Challenge, which he said he believes will draw the world's top professional cyclists and teams, making it successful enough to become an annual event.
"I can tell you that the best European riders will be lined up to come to this event," Armstrong said.
Armstrong, who lives in Aspen, said the idea of returning pro cycling to Colorado came about while riding alone in the mountains a couple of years back. He enlisted Ritter's help last year unaware that the governor was an avid cyclist who had watched the old Coors Classics while a law student at the University of Colorado.
"I think really this is the birth of an event, but in a lot of ways it's the rebirth of an old, traditional, history event that we all came to know and love a long, long time ago," Armstrong said.
Armstrong called to the podium former Olympian Davis Phinney, who won the '88 Coors Classic.
"I've told him that comebacks are a lot harder than people think," Armstrong said. "He said, 'OK, but I've got a son in Taylor Phinney who will be there.'"
With the cancellations of the tours of Georgia and Missouri, the Quiznos Pro Challenge and the Tour of California will be the only ones on U.S. soil next year.
The Quiznos Pro Challenge will be sanctioned by USA Cycling and the UCI. Course routes, host cities and participating teams will be announced in the coming months.
Armstrong has several appearances coming up, including a fundraiser in Steamboat Springs this weekend at the inaugural Ride 4 Yellow for off-road riders contributing to the fight against cancer. He told the AP he's also leaning toward riding again in the lung-searing Leadville 100 mountain bike race on Aug. 14.
"This month is one month you wanted to lay low," Armstrong said. "It ends up I'm pretty slammed with some commitments."