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Armstrong sees Sunday as the right time to go

Lance Armstrong knows exactly where he will be next July - sitting in front of his television watching his soon-to-be ex-rivals Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso battle it out for the yellow jersey. Armstrong, who won the 20th and penultimate stage of the Tour de France on Saturday, will retire after the end of Sunday’s 144km 21st stage when he will have guaranteed a seventh consecutive victory on the race. Last year, when he broke the record of the four other riders who, before him, had won the race five times, there had been a reason for sticking around. This year, he said, it was all about

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By Staff and wire reports

Lance Armstrong knows exactly where he will be next July – sitting in front of his television watching his soon-to-be ex-rivals Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso battle it out for the yellow jersey.

Armstrong, who won the 20th and penultimate stage of the Tour de France on Saturday, will retire after the end of Sunday’s 144km 21st stage when he will have guaranteed a seventh consecutive victory on the race. Last year, when he broke the record of the four other riders who, before him, had won the race five times, there had been a reason for sticking around.

This year, he said, it was all about honoring an agreement with Discovery Channel who came in to sponsor his team after the U.S. Postal Service ended its sponsorship. A year is a long time, however, and between now and then Armstrong admitted he will be taking life easy.

“We’re going to fly to the south of France and go to the beach for a week, and play with the kids on the beach and drink wine and eat lots of food,” said Armstrong, whose girlfriend is rock star Sheryl Crow.

“This job is stressful, and this race is stressful so hopefully the next week will be a preview of what my life will be like for the next 50 years, although I can’t promise I won’t show up at a few cyclo-cross events or mountain bike or triathlon races. “I’m an athlete. I’ve been competing in swimming and running events since I was 12 years old.”

Armstrong’s first victory on this year’s race was his 22nd stage victory from the Tour in 11 participations.

And despite dominating his rivals to the extent that he could probably win the tough three-week race with relative ease next year, he affirmed that now was the right time to hang up his bike.

“I’m more convinced (about retiring) now than I’ve ever been,” said Armstrong, who should finish on Sunday with his lead of 4:40 on Basso intact. “There was no pressure for victory, it was just something I wanted, as a sportsman, to go out on top. That was the only incentive and only pressure.”

Here are additional highlights from Armstrong’s post-stage press conference on Saturday:

 I don’t think the sport accomplishments are going to make my tripto heaven any easier.

 For me there was no pressure for this victory. It was just somethingthat I had within myself. As a sportsman, I wanted to go out on top. Andso that was the only incentive and the only pressure.

 My intention is not to remain a public figure for the next few years.I need a period of quiet and peace and privacy. I suppose that… BotheringJohan, begging for rides in the car, talking about tactics and how ourriders are doing, but I suppose I’ll be a little more stealth, if I cansay that…But I promise you one thing: I will be parked in front of theTV watching the Tour de France….I think the 2006 Tour de France is goingto be very interesting, from a tactical stand-point and from a personalstand-point.

 As a matter of fact, I’m more convinced now than I’ve ever been.I have absolutely no regrets. I’ve had an unbelievable career. I’ve beenblessed to ride 14 years as a professional…I’ve been blessed with financialrewards that I never thought would be possible.

 There’s no reason to continue. I don’t need more. It’s time for anew face…No regrets. I will live vicariously through the others.

 It’s nice to win one with a cushion, and say that you put in a goodsporting performance, but it wouldn’t be fair to say to next year’s winner,well, you’re lucky I didn’t show up. Let’s just watch next year’s raceand let the champion be the champion.

 If I was never sick, and I came back and I won the ping-pong worldchampionships, there wouldn’t be a bus outside and there wouldn’t be afrenzy. But that’s not the way it is. I was lucky enough to live, I waslucky enough to find my way here, and ultimately lucky enough to win seven.So I have to take that part of the job in stride, but I’m also no fool.I know that people forget about sports people…. I have both feet on theground and know that my time is up.

 I came here with the intention to do one thing, and that’s to winthe overall. If I’d come in second, that’s okay. The one event that I’msure that I wanted to win was the team time trial. I would have been alot more disappointed with second place there than I would have been withsecond place today…Luckily we got that, luckily we got a stage victorytoday. But that doesn’t give or take panache. Seven tours gives or takespanache.

 You see many riders who attack all the time. I figured, Johann andI were sitting down and said, you know how many attacks it takes to winthe Tour de France? One. One attack, and two good time trials. We stuckwith that, and it worked.

 My children are here, thank goodness. Come Monday morning, we’regoing to wake up in Paris and the kids and Sheryl and I and a group ofclose friends and family we’re going to fly to the south of France andenjoy ourselves for a week and lay on the beach and drink wine and notride a bike and eat a lot of food and swim in the pool, splash around withmy kids and not worry about the fact…thing is that this job is stressful,and this event is stressful, so it will be hopefully a week’s preview ofwhat my life will be like for the next 50 years, with no stress.