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    Lance Armstrong combines charity work, cycling at Tour Down Under

    American Lance Armstrong rounds a turn during the Cancer Council Helpline Classic at the 2010 Tour Down Under Cycling Classic in Adelaide, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Rob Griffith)

    ADELAIDE, Australia - Lance Armstrong broke ground on a new cancer research centre while capping his preparation for the Tour Down Under, combining the charitable works and cycling ambitions that lured from retirement 12 months ago.

    The seven-time Tour de France champion used last year's Australian race, the first event of the ProTour season, to launch his comeback from a 3-year retirement. He emphasized at the time that his charitable and competitive objectives shared equal priority.

    The cancer survivor has raised more than US$350 million to fight cancer through his Livestrong Foundation, and last year while in Adelaide endorsed fundraising efforts to build the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.

    The centre, which will house more than 100 research and clinical investigators, will also include the four-story Livestrong Research Wing.

    After a ceremony by representatives of Australia's indigenous Aborigines who purified the construction site with smoke from lemon-scented gum leaves, Armstrong spoke of his personal battle with cancer and his determination to see its eradication.

    Armstrong said he was "completely lost" when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 in his hometown of Austin, Texas, which shares a sister-city relationship with Adelaide.

    He spoke of the initially impersonal approach of some doctors before his meeting with the clinical team that guided his battle with the disease. Armstrong said it was the duties of governments around the world to ease the burden of cancer sufferers.

    "I am standing here today because I have been cured," Armstrong said, "but it is important to keep in mind there are other stories - names we don't know, faces we don't know, stories we don't know - which didn't have the same outcomes.

    "I look forward to hearing all the good stories that come out of this centre. This is the birth of hope and the birth of inspiration for so many people."

    Armstrong has become a close friend and booster of South Australian state Premier Mike Rann, whose government committed $5 million to the cancer centre's construction. Rann's government has paid Armstrong to compete in the Tour Down Under each of the last two years, but the premier has refused to say how much his visits have cost state taxpayers.

    The premier's critics say Armstrong's endorsement of his bid for re-election in March made the payments backdoor political advertising.

    Rann said Monday the Livestrong Research Wing aimed to lead the world in breakthroughs for early detection of cancer. Armstrong also offered doctors at the Flinders centre access to Livestrong's global network of researchers, philanthropists and political leaders.

    Rann said Armstrong brought "strength and hope, courage and purpose and ... likes to lead from the front in tackling cancer."

    Armstrong now turns his attention to the six-day, six-stage Tour Down Under, which starts Tuesday in rural South Australia.

    Armstrong will again use the season-opening tour to launch his bid for an eighth Tour de France title, this time with his new United States-based Radio Shack team.

    "The Tour (de France) is the main goal. If I can have some condition throughout the spring and early summer, then at least I can see myself knocking on the door of victory," he said.

    The Tour Down Under has drawn its strongest field of 133 riders including 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro, U.S. road champion George Hincapie and his teammate, two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia.


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