PARIS - Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on Wednesday cleared to race in the 2009 Tour Down Under in Australia, the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced.
The American, who stunned cycling by announcing his intentions to take part in next year's Tour de France, targeted the event in Australia as the first step on his comeback after a three-year absence.
It was clouded in doubt as the veteran was told that he had to respect the UCI's 'biological passport' rule demanding that athletes must be registered with an anti-doping program six months prior to competing.
But the world governing body said it was satisfied that Armstrong could take part.
"The International Cycling Union (UCI) has decided to approve Lance Armstrong's participation in the forthcoming Tour Down Under in Australia, to be held 20-25 January, the first event of the 2009 UCI ProTour," said a UCI statement.
Armstrong thanked the UCI on Wednesday for clearing him ahead of schedule.
"I am pleased and thankful with the UCI decision handed down today," Armstrong said. "I look forward to my return to racing at the Tour Down Under and more importantly I am excited to get to Adelaide to begin our Global Cancer campaign."
The UCI said it was willing to bend the rules for Armstrong because current anti-doping tests are more sophisticated than in 2004 when the six-month rule was implemented.
"According to Article 77 of the Anti-Doping Regulations introduced in 2004, a retired rider may only return to competition by informing the UCI six months in advance in order to allow him/her to be available for out-of-competition testing.
"Consequently, Lance Armstrong would only be able to return to the sport at international level from 1 February 2009, a week after the end of the Australian event.
"In respect of this situation, the UCI has taken into account the progress made in its anti-doping program since 2004. As a result of the improvements implemented, riders are now subject to a much-reinforced system of monitoring compared to that of the past.
"Consequently, the aim of Article 77 at the time of its introduction in 2004 (to ensure that a rider returning to competition is subject to the same degree of testing as active riders) can be better achieved through careful application of the current methods of the anti-doping program than by the strict application of a time period.
"The UCI can confirm that Lance Armstrong has and will be the subject of very strict monitoring throughout the period running up to his return to the peloton."