Armstrong to retire: Let the countdown begin

By Mark Zalewski in Augusta, Georgia The day that every Lance Armstrong fan knew would come, but...

July 24 to be The Boss's final day in the peloton

By Mark Zalewski in Augusta, Georgia

The day that every Lance Armstrong fan knew would come, but dreaded at the same time, turned out to be April 18, 2005. On the eve of the third edition of the Tour de Georgia, six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong announced that he would retire after the 2005 Tour de France.

"After a lot of thought, considering the season - the races 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 will be my last race as a professional cyclist," said Armstrong.

Sitting alongside his directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong made it absolutely clear that he will attempt to finish his time as a professional cyclist on top.

"July 24th will be the last one after more or less fourteen years in the professional peloton," Armstrong explained. "It will be the last one, win or lose. Having said that, I am fully committed to winning a seventh tour."

Armstrong listed many reasons why he has decided to move on to the next chapter in his life - among them age and his children. "I think the biggest inspiration are my children. They are the ones that make it easier to suffer but they are also the ones that have told me it is time to come home. So without them, none of this would be possible."

The other factor is the race against time. "Ultimately, athletes have to retire. I've been doing this for fourteen years, and a professional athlete for twenty years. The body doesn't just keep going and going and going. My time has come and there are many other things I need to do in life."

"I think people forget that if I were to win the Tour de France this summer, I would be the oldest winner in modern cycling. So statistics like that speak for themselves, that you can't do it forever and that while the Tour is an older mans race it's not an old man's race!"

Armstrong continued with a list of thanks, ranging from his long-time mentor Bruyneel to his partner Sheryl Crow. "Johan Bruyneel has been in my view the greatest sports director of all time, since he has directed six tours and won six - I don't know if anyone else can claim that record. This is the guy that came along and believed in me in 1998.

"Sheryl, you've been an amazing woman - someone who is the queen of rock and roll you sure have been a great cycling fan, team-mate and partner."

"Lastly my one other team is the team of ten million cancer survivors around the country, that have been very powerful. If you look at certain times of my life, I've relied on a special force, and I think the force of a team like that is incredibly powerful."

After the initial questions of why, the question of contract problems with his Discovery Channel team arose, but he quickly assured everyone that he will meet all his obligations, including one more Tour de France attempt. The Texan will continue to work with the Discovery Channel team as well as the media outlet in many capacities, including the development of younger talent. "I think the quicker we develop a young American, the better," said Armstrong. "I would like to be involved in that process and support them."

Staying away is hard to do

There have been many top athletes in various professional sports that have retired on top, only to attempt a comeback - Michael Jordan being one of the most popular examples. And Armstrong even brought up the NBA star saying he respected him as an amazing athlete. He even admitted that his new life as a cycling fan would be a difficult test.

"I've thought a lot about it - I've gone back and forth - there are many races that I think about and dream about, races that really motivate me. I was watching Milan-San Remo a few weeks ago, and I couldn't sit down the entire race. I was in front of the TV with Sheryl and she said, 'Look at you - you can't even sit down! How are you going to retire?' It's a great question. I have to tell you, I am one-hundred percent committed and the decision is final."

Lance cited his plans to continue his involvement with professional cycling through the Discovery Channel team as a way to get his cycling fix. "The outlet for me will now have to become via Johan and via the team. I think the team can move forward and develop another tour winner. I'll just be asking Johan to come along and ride in the car in the Tour de France - and I might not be able to sit down!"

Regardless of what capacity Lance continues to be involved in professional cycling, one thing is certain, he is not giving up the bike. "Five years from now, if I'm in Texas and there is a local mountain bike race, will I go down and do it? Probably. That's just simply as a fan and somebody who does cycling for fitness. I'm committed to the bike for life!"

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