By Andrew Hood
Racing legend Eddy Merckx said he perfectly understands Lance Armstrong’s decision to retire at the end of this summer’s Tour de France. It’s an inevitability that every professional racer faces.
“To stop or continue racing, it’s always a personal decision,” Merckx told Het Nieuwsblad. “I’m not going to judge him. It’s easy to understand that things are harder for him, with everything that he’s suffered to get to this level.”
Like many, Merckx agreed that Armstrong had the physical attributes to continue if he wanted to. Merckx said Armstrong could have easily transformed himself into a classics contender for the conclusion of his career
“From the physical point of view, it wouldn’t be a problem. Anyone who can beat cancer is not a normal type of person, but a great champion,” said Merckx. “I understand the pressure the media puts on him and how the public weighs on him heavily.”
Ullrich: ‘Second doesn’t interest me’
Jan Ullrich claims six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s decision to quit after this year’s race in July has set up a classic confrontation.
“I couldn’t be more motivated. I’m working like mad to be in top condition and I suspect it’ll be the same for him in his last Tour. It should be an epic race,” said the 1997 Tour winner and five-time runner-up
Ullrich, 31, is confident he can end Armstrong’s run.
“I am not interested in finishing second,” he said. “I am an optimist and I know what I can do.”
Verbruggen: Big role waiting for LA in cycling
UCI president Hein Verbruggen said there’s a “an important role” waiting for Lance Armstrong in retirement. No, it’s not taking over the UCI, but rather being a spokesman for the sport.
“Armstrong has expressed his desire to remain active inside the world of cycling and I believe he could find for himself a big role defending the interest of the professional racers,” Verbruggen said.
“He’s done a lot for cycling in the United States and in other countries. Sometimes we weren’t always in accord with him and sometimes we fought, because he wasn’t the type of person who wouldn’t say what he thought,” Verbruggen said. “And that’s something worthy of respect.”
Hinault: Wonders about LA
Bernard Hinault, another rider to have won five tours, felt Lance Armstrong might have started to doubt his own ability.
“At 33 he’s perhaps beginning to worry if he can still do it,” said the last Frenchman to win the Tour de France. “I’m sure his preparation is on course but I don’t know if he has someone to help him win again.”
Leblanc: Not surprised
Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc said he wasn’t surprised with Armstrong’s retirement announcement and said the news won’t change the Texan’s attitude about the Tour.
“We knew it was coming to this decision. It didn’t surprise us that he took this decision at 34 years old. He has to come to Europe and leave behind his children,” Leblanc said. “I don’t believe this is going to change his attitude about the Tour. He’s going to come to win the seventh and we can’t imagine that he’ll change in that respect.”
Belda: More to cycling than Armstrong
Vicente Belda, the rotund director of the Comunidad Valenciana team, said “cycling doesn’t start nor end with him” in reference to Armstrong’s imminent retirement.
“These are decisions you have to respect because sooner or later you have to say goodbye and the best thing he could have done is to have decided to leave racing at the most prestigious race,” Belda said. “The Armstrong era is coming to an end, but cycling doesn’t start nor end with him.”