Lance Armstrong, the two-time Olympic cyclist who has overcome testicular cancer, returned to the Tour de France in top form today, winning the race prologue.
Riding for the U.S. Postal Service team, Armstrong won the 4 1/4-mile time trial in 8 minutes 2.5 seconds, seven seconds ahead of runner-up Alex Zulle of Switzerland, riding for the Spanish team Banesto. Third, 11 seconds behind the winner, was Spaniard Abraham Olano of the Spanish team ONCE.
"This feeling is incredible," Armstrong said. "With my problems, my history, it is incredible.
"The Tour de France is the greatest race in the world."
Armstrong, 28, of Austin, won the 1993 world championship and competed for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 and 1996. On Oct. 2, 1996, testicular cancer was diagnosed and it had spread to his lungs and brain. He underwent surgery to remove his right testicle and lesions from his brain. After 15 months of rehabilitation and recovery, Armstrong returned to racing in February 1998.
Armstrong won stages of the Tour in 1993 and 1995, but has struggled through its mountainous middle stages.
The drug scandal that enveloped last year's race was still a topic of conversation among fans today. Many said this year's race could make or break the sport.
"Doping is just like nuclear weapons," said Queffelec Christian, a French fan. "Bring it all down to zero. This Tour is the opportunity to get rid of all the problems."
British fan Martin Burrill, a vacationer from Manchester, said he understood the temptation. "It is their choice . . . but maybe it isn't," he said. "You're a young lad, maybe it's your first contract. The manager says, 'Take this.' What are you going to do?"
French cycling star Richard Virenque remains under investigation on drug charges. He competed today. On Wednesday, the Tour reluctantly bowed to pressure from cycling's governing body and readmitted the controversial rider, whom it had earlier barred because "his presence would be incompatible with the image of the Tour."