Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has hinted he could retire at the end of the season but admits he might find the prospect of losing this year’s Tour de France too hard to swallow.
The 32-year-old Texan is targeting a record sixth win in cycling’s blue-ribbon event and admits retirement is a thought. But he told The Times newspaper in London on Saturday: “I can’t imagine being retired 12 months from now. But I’m open to the possibility there will be a tap on the shoulder and someone says ‘time’s up’.
“This could be my last year. If I lost I don’t know if I would say, ‘Okay, I’m past my prime, time to go’, or if I’d say, ‘I’ve got to try again’. People who know me best, I think they’d say, ‘The guy has to try again.’”
But he makes no secret of the fact that riding in the Tour de France is hell.
“I don’t think there is a harder sporting event anywhere,” he says. “Imagine a marathon and Formula One combined – that’s what it’s like. It’s three weeks of agony and it’s hard and it hurts and it can be dangerous and every single guy who does it is one tough bastard.”
The U.S. Postal rider got his season off to a solid start at the Tour of the Algarve in Portugal, where he finished fifth overall after winning the individual time trial. Still, he reiterated his belief that Germany’s Jan Ullrich remained his leading contender for Tour glory and he would be monitoring his progress in the buildup to the Tour.
“I was thinking what would I do if I heard Ullrich had won a time trial in February,” he said. “I think I’d get straight down and do 50 sit-ups just to say to myself I was doing something. This time of the year is pure suffering for me. I’m not at my peak … but I’ll be at my peak in July.”
Asked about doping, Armstrong says the issue will continue to dog cycling. “The next thing will be genetic doping,” he adds. “I’m not the first and I won’t be the last (to be suspected of taking drugs) but I know the truth and that’s what matters to me.
“People want to know that the guy who worked the hardest and fought the hardest and got the best coaches and the best teammates went out and won fair and square, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
And the man who beat cancer to rival Eddy Merckx, who amassed 445 professional victories in his heyday in the 1960s, as the greatest rider ever, added: “When I was sick, I didn’t want to die. When I race I don’t want to lose. Dying and losing, it’s the same thing.” –Copyright 2004/AFP