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The End Of An Era: Armstrong To Retire After '05 Tour
Tue Apr 19, 2005
Source: Velo News

TOUR DE GEORGIA, GA - Initially choking on his words, six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong dropped the bombshell Monday afternoon that the cycling community has been speculating on for years: that after a bid for an attempt at an unprecedented seventh Tour de France victory, the 2005 Tour will be his last.

Flanked by his Discovery Channel team director and longtime advisor Johan Bruyneel at a pre-race press conference for the Dodge Tour de Georgia, Armstrong wasted no time announcing his decision to retire on July 24th, the final day of the 2005 Tour.

After sitting down, Armstrong cleared his throat and delivered the news.

"I'll cut right to the chase," he said, "and say that after a lot of thought, considering the races that I was going to do this year, I decided to focus on the Tour. At the same time, I decided that the Tour de France would be my last race as a professional cyclist. So July 24 will be the last one, after almost 14 years in the professional peloton it will be the last one, win or lose. Having said that, I'm fully committed to winning a seventh Tour."

Word of Armstrong's retirement didn't come as a complete shock, as the 33-year-old Texan has made no secret over the past two years of the fact he missed spending time with his children while he was living in Europe. Armstrong has three children - a son (Luke) and twin daughters (Isabelle and Grace) - and it was that same issue that he cited as his primary reason to leave competitive cycling.

"After I made the firm decision to ride the Tour, I started to think about it," Armstrong said when asked why he chose now as the time to leave racing. "I had a period of one month in Europe and my kids were in Texas, and that was much harder than it had ever been before. Last year there was a period of two months and a period of three months without them, but this year was something that I've never experienced. They're at an age where they change daily, if not hourly, and to be away from them for one month is grueling... I came back and I was blown away by the changes in their lives, their attitudes and their independence and intelligence. It's time for me to not miss key moments in their lives."

Naming his mother and his sponsors as instrumental in his success over the years, Armstrong then pointed to Bruyneel as an integral element in his sting of Tour de France wins.

"Johan has been, in my view, arguably the greatest sports director of all time, since he's directed six Tours and won six," Armstrong said. "I don't know that anybody else can claim that record. This is the guy that came along and believed in me. In 1998 he said that you could do it, and this is how you're going to do it, and let's go for it. Along the way he helped shape and mold the team, and put together a group of people, not just riders but staff and sponsors, that helped make this all a reality. Without Johan, and without my teammates over the years... all of them, some still on the team and some are not, but they've all been to six Tours and the other races that led up to the Tours, so I can't thank them enough."

It was a doubly significant day for the sport of cycling, as news came immediately following Armstrong's press conference that Tyler Hamilton, the second-most successful American racer of Armstrong's generation, had received a two-year suspension for homologous blood doping. No questions were posed to Armstrong about Hamilton during the press conference, and the Tour champion made no mention of the case. Still, one couldn't help but recognize the large void looming in American cycling, with the two announcements coming just hours apart.


Armstrong plans to say goodbye to cycling at the end of the '05 Tour.

"I think we're a little bit spoiled in the U.S.," Armstrong said. "In the last 20 years we've won nine Tours. We've been blessed with a lot of victories. All countries have droughts. Certain countries, and I won't name any names, haven't won a Tour in 20 years."

The last time the host country won the Tour de France was in 1985, when Bernard Hinault won his fifth before retiring at the age of 32.

Armstrong suggested that the U.S. might face a similar lapse.

"We might have to be prepared for that," he said. "Although I hope that doesn't happen, it very well could."

But, if Armstrong has his way, that won't begin in 2005. The winningest rider in Tour history said his retirement plans won't influence his desire to win the Tour for a seventh time.

"It's a Tour that I want to win," Armstrong said. "It's been a dream of mine for a long time, and whenever I watch sport, whatever sport it may be, I love to watch the guy go out on top. I would love to try and do that."

Bruyneel echoed Armstrong's sentiments, adding that he felt the retirement announcement would likely push the champion further towards another victory.

"Knowing Lance," Bruyneel said, "He's a person, when he gets focused, he has his objective in front of him, it's all in his mind... I don't think this is going to be of any influence on him. On the contrary, I think it's going to be a motivating factor... that it's going to be his last one and he wants to win his last one."

Asked if he felt a responsibility to win a seventh Tour, Armstrong answered, "Can I win again this year? I'm not sure, but I'm going to try. I'm going to do my best. This is going to be a different year for the Tour de France. I'm one year older, and Jan Ullrich, who I always consider to be the main rival, looks to be much better than he's ever been this time of year. It could be an exciting Tour, and there's a whole new young generation of riders coming up that I think will provide plenty of excitement. It's my ambition to win, and also my job to win."

But the heroics and fame have not come without controversy.

In 2003, Armstrong divorced wife Kristen, the mother of his three children, and began a relationship with Crow.

"Sheryl, you are the queen of rock," Armstrong said. "You've been an amazing woman and a great partner."

Armstrong has never failed a doping test, but he has been nagged by accusations of taking banned performance-enhancing substances throughout his years of dominating the world's best riders over the mountains of France.

Armstrong's contract with new team sponsor Discovery Channel requires him to race in just one more Tour de France, with this week's 1,040km U.S. race serving as a tune-up and the start of his farewell tour in a rare U.S. appearance.

Strong rivals include France's Credit Agricole, Denmark's Team CSC, Spain's Saunier Duval Swiss team Phonak and Germany's Gerolsteiner - all UCI Pro Teams.

Armstrong, who turns 34 in September, retired from the Paris-Nice race after three stages with illness.

Other U.S. riders are concerned that Armstrong's success has not inspired a new generation of American cyclists to fill his void.

"I don't see anyone," Paris-Nice winner Bobby Julich said. "That's the problem. There's a big gap between us guys, 32-33-34 years old, and the growth we should see."

But U.S. veteran Floyd Landis was more optimistic, using Armstrong as an example.

"Eleven years ago, Lance wasn't expected to live," Landis said. "You never know what can happen in time."

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