By Stephen Farrand, Reuters
Lance Armstrong says his sole objective next year is to win the Tour de France for a record sixth time.
“I’m more motivated to win a sixth Tour de France than I think I was to win five,” the American U.S. Postal rider told a news conference in Brussels on Friday.
Armstrong joined cycling’s most select club in July when he claimed his fifth victory in the sport’s biggest race, matching the feat of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
“The Tour de France is the only objective we have,” said Armstrong. “Sometimes that’s a controversial issue, but the Tour de France is the biggest, the best and the grandest bike race in the world and so continues to be my one and only objective.
“Things may change a little bit for the Olympic Games next year, but the Tour de France is everything to me.”
Armstrong, 32, said he would leave a decision on retiring until after next year’s Tour.
“I can’t imagine myself as being a retired athlete in eight months’ time, but there are several factors that will decide my future,” he said. “First of all I have to decide if I’m still strong enough to compete because I don’t want to ride until I’m old and weak. And then it also depends if my team continues. The sponsorship contract is up in 2004, and I don’t plan on leaving my directeur sportif, Johan Bruyneel.”
Armstrong expects Jan Ullrich and his T-mobile team to be his biggest rivals for 2004.
“Jan’s got a good chance of winning because he’s got a great team, he has got the motivation again, and at 30 is entering the best years of his career,” he said. “Some people are saying I’m leaving my best years, and so he’ll be tough to beat. It will be a close race next year – perhaps, I think, we should start calling him the favorite.”
Since winning his fifth Tour, Armstrong has separated from his wife, Kristen. As a consequence he will not ride in any of the one-day World Cup races in April and plans to spend more time at home in Austin, Texas, with his three children.
“I typically leave the States in February and return in September, but now I can’t stay away for so long I’m going to do two-month blocks racing and training in Europe and then go back,” he said.
“I’d rather lose the Tour de France rather than spend six or seven months away from my kids.”