Originally created 04/19/05

Armstrong gets ready to ride into retirement



With machine gun-like efficiency, photographers fired away as Lance Armstrong revealed one of the worst-kept secrets this year.

The six-time Tour de France champion announced his retirement Monday at an afternoon news conference at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta. Mr. Armstrong is competing in this week's Tour de Georgia, which begins at 11:30 a.m. today at Augusta Common. It is most likely his last race in the United States.

Mr. Armstrong will then retire for good when the Tour de France concludes July 24.

"I have thought a lot about it. I've gone back and forth," Mr. Armstrong said. "I'm 100 percent committed, and the decision is final."

Mr. Armstrong always will be remembered for popularizing cycling in the United States, and the number of media outlets (including ESPN, CNN, The New York Times) that covered Monday's announcement reflected his celebrity status.

The Texan - with a resting heartbeat between 32 and 34 beats a minute - is a perennial champion of the most prestigious cycling race in the world.

But he's also a cancer survivor.

And he dates a rock 'n' roll star (Sheryl Crow).

Mr. Armstrong is one of those rare athletes who transcends his sport. He appeared in February, with Ms. Crow, on the popular Oprah Winfrey Show. And his yellow "Live Strong" bracelets are as common these days as cell phones.

Despite his fame and fortune, Mr. Armstrong considers himself something simple: a father.

With his ex-wife, Kristin, Mr. Armstrong has three young children: son Luke, 5, and twin 3-year-old daughters Isabelle and Grace. Spending a month in Europe earlier this year away from his children tore at him.

"They're at an age now where they change daily, if not hourly, and to be away for one month, it's grueling," Mr. Armstrong said. "I came back, and I was blown away by the changes in their lives, their attitudes, and their independence and intelligence. It's time for me to not miss key moments in their lives."

One key moment in his life he'll never forget: Oct. 2, 1996. There were no thoughts of children then. No thoughts of pushing pedals. Mr. Armstrong, then 25, learned he had an aggressive form of testicular cancer - a disease that spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain.

It took two months, two surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy treatments, but Mr. Armstrong overcame the cancer and soon became a worldwide cycling legend.

A promising rider in the early 1990s, Mr. Armstrong broke through in 1999, capturing his first Tour de France victory.

He has not lost in that event since, and he now owns the most Tour de France titles in cycling history. He also holds the record for most consecutive wins in the event.

Of course, he'd like to go out in style with one more opportunity to drink champagne as he pedals through downtown Paris.

"Because of that dream to go out on top," Mr. Armstrong said about riding in one more Tour de France. "That's a big deal for me."

The 33-year-old Mr. Armstrong also cited age as his other reason for retiring. If he were to win a seventh Tour de France, he'd be the oldest champion.

"Statistics like that certainly speak for themselves," he said. "Ultimately, athletes have to retire. The body just doesn't let you keep going and going and going."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Official start of Tour de Georgia

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. today

WHERE: Augusta Common

ARMSTRONG AT A GLANCE

AGE: 33

BIRTHPLACE: Plano, Texas

CLAIM TO FAME: Cancer survivor and six-time winner of Tour de France

HONORS: 2002 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year; 2002, 2003 and 2004 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year; 2003, 2004 ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete; 2003 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.

ARMSTRONG'S CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1993 - USPro Championship; World Road Race Championship

1995 - San Sebastian Classic, Tour DuPont, Tour of America

1999 - Tour de France

2000 - Tour de France

2001 - Tour de France; Tour de Suisse

2002 - Critrium du Dauphin Libr; Tour de France

2003 - Critrium du Dauphin Libr; Tour de France

2004 - Tour de Georgia; Tour de France

SOURCE: WWW.LANCEARMSTRONG.COM