Armstrong back racing at Tour of the Gila

Lance Armstrong climbing at Astana's training camp in Tenerife, December 2008

Lance Armstrong made his return to competition yesterday at the Tour of the Gila, USA. The seven-time Tour de France winner returns after an enforced month's lay-off after badly breaking his collarbone in March.

Armstrong left a post on his Twitter site shortly after the first stage: "Stage 1 of Gila done. Levi Leipheimer cruises to victory. I didn't feel so bad myself for first race back after the crash."

Armstrong is participating in the Tour of the Gila as part of a three-man outfit riding under the name of Armstrong's Texas bike shop, Mellow Johnny's. Originally Armstrong's ProTour team Astana had entered a squad, but were unable to do so due a ruling that states that no professional-level team can take part in a national-level event.

However, the UCI made an agreement with USA Cycling at the last minute to allow three representatives from Astana to take part as long as they raced under a different team name. Armstrong is accompanied by US compatriots Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer at the event.

Armstrong broke his collarbone during the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in Spain on March 23. He subsequently underwent a surgical procedure that resulted in the Texan receiving a metal plate and 12 screws to aid his recovery.

Armstrong is scheduled to ride in the 2009 Giro d'Italia, which starts on May 9 in Venice.

LEIPHEIMER TAKES THE WIN
Levi Leipheimer won the opening stage of the five-day Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, USA, on Wednesday. Leipheimer broke free from the bunch during the final climb to take a solid solo win, 49 seconds ahead of second-placed Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko).

"As we only knew since yesterday that we would participate here, we started with small ambitions," commented Leipheimer. "But when you feel good and you have a winner?s mentality, it is difficult to stay quiet in the peloton."

"I like to win and Lance motivated me to jump away on the final climb. I have no team here to control the race for me, but I will try to defend this nice red leader?s jersey."

Armstrong finished eighth, one minute 40 seconds behind Leipheimer.

Leipheimer has already won two stage races this season: the Tour of California and Castilla y Leon.

TOUR OF THE GILA STAGE ONE RESULTS
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Mellow Johnny's 115km in 3-36-02

2. Peter Stetina (USA) Felt-Holowesko at 49secs

3. Christopher Baldwin (USA) Boulder at 1-00

4. Matt Cooke (USA) RideClean at 1-12

5. Burke Swindlehurst (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling at 1-18

6. Florian Stalder (USA) Team B at 1-23

7. Rory Sutherland (USA) OUCH-Maxxis at 1-36

8. Lance Armstrong (USA) Mellow Johnny's at 1-40

9. Tyler Wren (USA) Colavita Sutter Home at 1-46

10. Scott Nydam (USA) Team B at same time.

RELATED LINKS

The Wednesday Comment: Armstrong free to do what he likes

Serrano holds off sprinters at Tour de Romandie

Follow Cycling Weekly on Twitter>>