ROME (AP) – Lance Armstrong concluded a relatively quiet Giro d’Italia in 12th place overall Sunday, then jetted home to await the birth of his fourth child.

The seven-time Tour de France winner eased off in the race’s final stage, an individual time trial run through the ancient streets of Rome on uneven cobblestones made even more slippery by rain.

Armstrong finished 53rd in the race against the clock, 1 minute, 19 seconds behind stage winner Ignatas Konovalovas of Lithuania, and ended 15:59 behind overall race winner Denis Menchov of Russia.

“It has been a hard three weeks,” Armstrong said in a statement from his Astana team. “In the second half of the race, I showed that I was certainly getting better and I think we can take that away from here.”

Armstrong used the Giro to get back in form after 31/2 years of retirement and having broken his collarbone in March. Armstrong’s girlfriend, Anna Hansen, is expecting a baby soon.

Armstrong did not speak to the media for the final two weeks of the Giro.

“Already at the airport in Rome,” Armstrong wrote on his Twitter page immediately after the race. “Headed home!! Baby # 4 any minute now. CaNOT wait!”

For most of the Giro, Armstrong rode in support of teammate Levi Leipheimer, who finished sixth overall, 5:28 back.

“I am not disappointed,” Leipheimer said. “Over the three weeks, there were five guys a bit stronger than me. Basically, I decided to do the Giro more out of preparation for the Tour de France. I raced here against riders that were really targeting this race.”

The closest Astana came to winning a stage was Leipheimer’s runner-up performance in the marathon-like 37.7-mile individual time trial in stage 12, with the American finishing 20 seconds behind Menchov.

Astana did win the overall team standings, with a 24:15 lead over Team Columbia-High Road.

“I think we got exactly what we came for, which is a good team performance,” Astana team director Johan Bruyneel said.

“Levi was a contender for a while. And then he kind of dropped back a little bit…It was not an obsession for us to race the Giro and control the Giro and to win the Giro. Overall, the feeling we take away from the race is that everybody is in good shape, and that’s good preparation for the Tour.”

The Tour begins July 4, and this race was used by Armstrong to get back into the groove of a major three-week race.

Armstrong lost large chunks of time in the first two mountaintop finishes at San Martino di Castrozza and Alpe di Siusi and finished 13th in the long time trial in stage 12, 2:26 behind Menchov.

Armstrong helped orchestrate a rider protest over a dangerous course through Milan in stage 9.

“The style of racing in Italy is different, but I liked it,” Armstrong said. “Despite some dangerous stages, it was a great race. The Giro brought us to the most beautiful places of the country. The people here are enthusiastic.”

Armstrong’s condition improved in the third week, and the Texan was up ahead riding with the leaders on the grueling climb to Monte Petrano in stage 16, which was shaped by severe heat, when he dropped back to escort Leipheimer, who was struggling, the rest of the way.

In the next stage, Armstrong felt good enough to launch a solo attack on the uphill finish to Blockhaus, but he couldn’t keep it going and crossed 10th, directly behind defending Tour winner Carlos Sastre.

“Perhaps he’s been suffering in the race and hasn’t had the energy to speak to the press,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said. “In a SMS message the other day, I told him he’s probably aged 20 years these last three weeks but he wasn’t happy with that.”

Leipheimer was expected to dominate the long time trial, but a freak crash the day before may have slowed him.

“I thought that his time trial was good, but it was not one of his greatest days,” Bruyneel said. “A crash before a time trial is never good, no matter how small of a crash, because you’re bruised, you don’t sleep as well. So, that was really the start of the down-curve.”

Until the Giro, Leipheimer had won all three races he entered this year – the Tour of California, the Vuelta of Castilla and Leon and the minor Tour of Gila.

“If you look back on the season, he’s been there since February on a very high level,” Bruyneel said. “He came into the Giro real strong, which was good because the beginning was hard also – there were two mountain stages and he looked good there. But the last week, no matter (how) a big stage race is designed, you always have to be strong the last week.

“We did everything we could. If you don’t have the legs, you don’t have the legs. That’s the way it is. There’s no regrets.”

AP-ES-05-31-09 1708EDT

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