By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong is set to drop a bombshell on the cycling world in a press conference before the start of the Tour de Georgia. Or is he?
According to hints to the French press last month, the six-time Tour de France champ coyly suggested the Euro media might want to show up in Georgia on April 18 to get the real story.
Ever since Armstrong took his time before committing to racing in this year’s Tour, any hint of retirement sends the cycling press spinning into a speculating frenzy. Especially in Europe, where cycling is one of the major sports and platoons of journalists cover the sport full-time, scoops are a premium.
And there’s no better scoop these days than to get the inside track on Lance Armstrong’s retirement plans – even if it’s pure conjecture.
Of course, no one knows what Armstrong is going to say, if anything. Last year he gave a press conference before the Tour de Georgia, which is simply business as usual for the marquee attraction at any race.
Over the weekend, VeloNews conducted an unscientific poll, which largely involved asking anyone who happened to stroll past the martini bar at the Dolce Chantilly hotel on the eve of Paris-Roubaix what they thought Big Tex might have to say.
If there’s one thing consistent about the Texan, it’s that he’s always been full of surprises. Here are some of the possibilities. Take your best guess:
Out-right retirement: Highly unlikely. Armstrong has a two-year contract to ride with Discovery Channel and has already committed to racing one more Tour. Like he told Le Figaro last month, “To win a seventh Tour is now my objective. But seven would be just one more whereas six was magic.” There’s no way he’d want his last imprint on cycling being the Tour de Georgia. Sorry, but Georgia peaches just don’t cut it compared to French champagne.
Run for governor of Texas: Not just yet. Everyone loves to speculate that Armstrong would make a great politician, but he says that’s the craziest thing he’s ever heard. But who ever thought a muscle-bound Austrian with an accent thicker than pork sausage would be governor of California? Give him 20 years of being bored and maybe we’ll see Armstrong enter the ultimate fray, but not now.
Intent to race Giro: Not this year. Armstrong ventured to Italy to meet face-to-face with an Italian judge to clear up some questions concerning his spat in last year’s Tour with the pesky Filippo Simeoni. With the Giro start just two weeks after Georgia, don’t hold your breath about seeing Armstrong take on Damiano Cunego and Ivan Basso. The nearest Armstrong will likely get to Italy in May will be Max Sciandri’s dad’s restaurant in Los Angeles.
Announce Olympic support for Moscow: After the New York Post roasted Armstrong for throwing his support behind Paris’s bid to snag the 2012 Summer Games, calling him “Axle of Evil” and a traitor, this is the last thing he’ll say, despite his longtime affection for Viatcheslav Ekimov.
Engagement to Sheryl Crow: No, that’s Oprah stuff. If the pair didn’t announce it during the recent Oprah love-fest a few months back, don’t look for it at a press conference before the Tour de Georgia.
Start movie career: Nope, despite Armstrong’s cameo in “Dodgeball,” this is Matt Damon territory. After all, he’s slated to portray Big Tex in a Hollywood pic currently in pre-production.
Say absolutely nothing: Very likely. Just like the misunderstanding over his comments about his support for the Paris 2012 Olympic bid, his remarks last month to French journalists about suggesting something important is brewing could have been nothing more than a simple misinterpretation. You’ve seen Armstrong fight his way through French in post-Tour interviews; you should hear the French hacks mangle Texan.
Say he’ll skip the Tour: Hmmm, maybe, but doubtful. Armstrong has already committed to racing this July and it’s not in his character to backtrack. Conventional cycling wisdom says the Tour champion should defend his title. Besides, his training is back on track, including recent stints on the Canary Islands and some hard racing in Belgium. According to team officials, Armstrong says his legs are feeling good. That’s good news for racing fans, bad news for Jan Ullrich.
Last Tour then adieux to Europe: If there’s a kernel of truth that he’s got something big to say, then this one makes the most sense. Armstrong will compete in the Tour this July, then aim for lesser targets in 2006 such as throw his support behind the new Tour of California, tackle the hour record or make a run for the world time trial championships. No more Tours for Lance Armstrong.