"I'm not sharp," Armstrong admits

Lance Armstrong is trying to start his 2005 season in a low-key manner, using Paris-Nice as a training race, the first step on the long road to July's Tour de France where he'll attempt to clock up a historic seventh victory. But when you've won six Tours de France already, you don't get to do anything quietly, and Armstrong is already having to explain to the press that he's not a contender in the race to the sun.

"It's my first race of the season and I'm not very sharp," Armstrong told AFP after yesterday's stage of Paris-Nice. "I'm probably slower simply because I stayed longer than usual in the United States. When I return to Europe I pay a lot more attention to my form because I train regularly, eat better and have nothing to distract me."

Armstrong has had a busy off-season. "Don't say I spent the winter partying, because I didn't," he told the International Herald Tribune's Samuel Abt, but did acknowledge that he'd been to the Grammy Awards and an Academy Awards party with his girlfriend Sheryl Crow.

"Over there [in the USA] I've a lot of commitments and have problems juggling the rigours of preparation and other non-sporting demands," he told AFP. "I've hardly followed the beginning of the season whereas normally I'm on the Internet every day following results."

Armstrong will spend the next month in Europe and is focused on riding himself into form. "It will be a month of hard work without any distractions," he said. Armstrong will return to the US for the Tour de Georgia (April 19-24), and will be back in Europe for the Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré (June 5-12) and the ProTour team time trial in Eindhoven, June 19.

Then there's the Tour de France. "The Tour is my favourite race, which I owe everything to, for which I live," said Armstrong.

The fact that he's going for a seventh victory, and has already set a record that looks likely to stand for decades doesn't affect Armstrong. "In fact I'm going to approach it like the others," he said. "The figure, the record, all that is of no importance. It will be like the first, like the second. Winning the greatest race in the world one more time."

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