THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ADELAIDE, Australia — Lance Armstrong arrived in Australia on Sunday a few hours after his Astana team, and a few days ahead of when Tour Down Under officials indicated he would.
The Astana squad flew in from Europe via Singapore in preparation for the UCI ProTour race, which starts on Jan. 18 and marks the return of seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong to professional competition four years after he retired.
Armstrong was said by race officials early Sunday to be still training at his base in Hawaii, and that he might not arrive in Australia until mid-week.
But Armstrong was shown in Seven Network television footage later Sunday arriving at Sydney airport, about a 75-minute flight from Adelaide.
Race director Mike Turtur had earlier said he had been given details of Armstrong’s travel plans but had been asked not to disclose them.
Turtur was still playing coy even after Armstrong’s arrival video was shown.
"Is he here, really?" Turtur told The Associated Press while having dinner Sunday. "If he is, I don’t know anything about it. And I’m not in a position to confirm it anyway."
Astana team manager Sean Yates said the team would train without its star for the first part of the week but did not believe that would be a problem heading into the first race of the season.
"Lance has been training very hard, he’s had three years out and wants to make up some lost ground. He’s more than ready," Yates said at Adelaide airport.
Cancer survivor Armstrong is using his return to cycling to further the fight against cancer worldwide. While in Adelaide he will appear at two major functions, including one run by the Cancer Council of South Australia.
As well as the Tour Down Under, his race schedule for 2009 will include the Giro d’Italia and an attempt to win an unprecedented eighth Tour de France.
Writing on his Internet blog recently, Armstrong said preparations for the new season were much different to what he had been involved with in the past with his training starting in the American summer of 2008.
"I’ve spent months and months in the gym trying to build back a certain level of strength that I think I’ll need, not just strength but core stability," he said.
As well as Astana, the Spanish Euskaltel Euskadi team and the French Bouygues team arrived on Sunday while AG2R La Mondiale and Caisse D’Epargne flew in on Saturday.
The six stages of the Tour Down Under run from Jan. 20 to 25, with a criterium in Adelaide scheduled for Jan. 18.