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Lance Armstrong gives Tour de France new juice

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Armstrong: I'm here to win, but it'll be tough

Armstrong himself, like a cycler negotiating mountain switchbacks, is expertly ramping expectations up – and down.

Up: "I'm doing this Tour to win, not just to be there," he said in Aspen last week. Down: "Now it's 2009, not 2004.... It's not going to be easy to win. In December and January, I thought it would be easier," he said this week while in the French Alps.

But for the Tour de France, it is all good. This week, the debate here is over the Astana team. Astana is considered the favorite, not only because Armstrong joined it last September, but because it includes the young Spaniard Alberto Contador, who is now regarded as No. 1 in the world after recent wins in the Italian and Spanish tours, and in the 2007 Tour de France.

Armstrong and Mr. Contador are winter and spring; Brett Favre and Matt Ryan. They don't have a relationship, yet. So how the Astana team dynamics play out in an event where winning requires support and assistance of team members, is the talk of French sports.

French still skeptical

Of course, the French aren't entirely buying a media spoon-fed Armstrong bonanza. He's a guy who piquantly criticized the French national soccer team and lashed out against top French sports magazine L'Equipe, which in 2005 – citing evidence from a French antidoping lab – published still-unproven charges that Armstrong had used the performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin (EPO) to win in 1999.

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