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Armstrong may not be contender for Tour de France, Sastre says

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Lance Armstrong may not be a contender to win the Tour de France when he returns after more than three years of retirement, defending champion Carlos Sastre said.

"The most important thing is to see how he starts off the season," Sastre told Television Espanola today. "Its difficult to see him as a threat in the middle of December."

The 37-year-old Armstrong makes his comeback at Australias six-day Tour Down Under on Jan. 20 before racing the Tour of California in February and competing in some early-season races in Europe, including the Giro dItalia. The Tour de France is in July.

Sastre, a 33-year-old Spaniard, won the Tour for the first time this year after top-three finishes in the previous two races. He finished 21st in 2005, when Armstrong won the last of his record seven titles. He was speaking at the presentation of the Aug. 29-Sept. 20 Vuelta a Espana.

The Spanish race, the most international edition in its 74-year history, starts with a time trial in Assen, the Netherlands, and will pass through Germany and Belgium, the events top official Javier Guillen said.

The race wont enter Spain until the fifth stage, which starts from Tarragona. There will be a time trial in Valencia that passes through the 2007 Americas Cup sailing port, as well as eight mountain stages, including a finish in the Sierra Nevada near the city of Granada. The race will finish in Madrid.