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>>