Lance Armstrong came to Washington yesterday to celebrate his victory in the Tour de France last month, but also to draw attention to another victory: surviving cancer.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Armstrong, 27, said that he has had "an interesting three years" since learning he had advanced testicular cancer in October 1996. "Since that day, I have come to realize and learn and grow, and now I know that's the best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "The opportunities I have encountered have been immensely great."

Since that diagnosis, Armstrong said, he met his wife, Kristin, started a cancer foundation and took a year's "vacation" from cycling.

After returning to the sport, Armstrong started training with the U.S. Postal Service team. Last month, he won the Tour de France barely two years after leaving a chemotherapy ward.

When he decided to return to the sport after his bout with cancer, Armstrong said, "There were little obstacles along the way." He said some people didn't think he would ever return to his racing form.

But, he said, "The Postal Service gave me a chance to race again." Armstrong praised Postal Service teammates for giving him the support he needed to win the race and said he has signed a two-year extension to race with the team through 2001. Armstrong said that he dedicated his victory to his team.

Armstrong also said he wants to draw more attention to issues affecting cancer survivors through his Lance Armstrong Foundation.

"We're thriving," he said. "We want to be a part of [the cancer research] process. . . . It's not easy to go through the most dramatic time of our life . . . [and then] have to go back to . . . deal with life."

After his Press Club appearance, Armstrong visited with President Clinton in the Oval Office. Then, he moved to the Roosevelt Room to join Vice President Gore, who plans to make fighting cancer a key campaign theme.

"There are some victories that have an extra meaning," Gore said, adding that Armstrong not only had won the Tour de France but also focused attention on "the effort to conquer cancer." Gore said that new figures show that there are 8.4 million cancer survivors in the United States, more than ever before.

Gore and Armstrong greeted several children who are cancer survivors at yesterday's White House ceremony. "I hope that what I did in a bike race in France gives hope and inspiration to people not only here but around the world," Armstrong said.