It is bound to happen some time, but could it be that Lance Armstrong might be missing from next yeaPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE With six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong absent from Thursday's 2005 Tour launch for "family reasons", it was left to US Postal team manager Johan Bruyneel to field questions about the American's plans for next season when the Discovery Channel takes over as the new backer of the USA's top team. Surprisingly, these plans could see Armstrong miss the Tour completely. "At the moment his participation at the Tour is 50-50," said Bruyneel. "For the moment we haven't made any special plans, we've just decided to give things a little bit of time. There is no need to hurry just now. We will see how he starts the season. He is going to ease himself gently back into the team environment and we will see how he feels then. It will all depend on his motivation and his condition. What he needs at the moment is a winter without any pressure." Bruyneel stated that in breaking the record for the number of Tour wins, Armstrong took a lot out of himself both physically and mentally. "Last year the pressure was greater than ever. Right from December he was focusing totally on that one goal, and it took an awful lot to achieve it. That's why, if he does decide to start the Tour next year, we will change our approach. We will just see how things go and, a month beforehand, we will see how he feels and then decide. If he decides against, he will do something else. He can't go on forever." Bruyneel made clear that one option that Armstrong, who was 33 last month, was not considering was quitting cycling altogether. "What is certain is that he is not leaving cycling and also that, if he is at the Tour start, he will not be there for a Sunday afternoon stroll. He will not go unless he feels strong and then we will prepare in the same serious manner as usual." Since winning that historic sixth Tour, Armstrong has raced very little and in recent weeks his time has been taken up by family and other commitments, notably support of his cancer foundation. Even so, it is hard to imagine next year's Tour beginning without Armstrong although clearly that scenario is certain to take place sooner rather than later given the length of his career and the obvious fact that he must have achieved most of his competitive goals. In the past there has been talk of Armstrong making an attempt on Chris Boardman's world hour record, and that challenge may still seem attractive. The Classics may also be more of a draw than usual, and Bruyneel admitted as much by saying that the Texan would begin competing again next February with an eye on "Amstel, Flche Wallonne, Lige-Bastogne-Lige and perhaps the Tour of Flanders." Those procycling readers who expressed their desire to see Armstrong add some of the other great events on the cycling calendar to his palmars before he retires just might be about to see that wish fulfilled.