PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Following Lance Armstrong's announcement on Monday that he will be retiring from professional cycling at the conclusion of the Tour de France, the great and the good of the sport have been lining up to pay tribute to him. Here are a selection of their comments:
Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc: "It doesn't really surprise that he has taken this decision at almost 34 years of age. But I don't believe that this will change his attitude at the next Tour. He will come to win a seventh. He has shown he has the motivation, the focus and pride, and I'm sure he won't be far from his best form in July."
Five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx: "He has been under tremendous pressure and has not always had the acknowledgement someone who has beaten cancer to accomplish such a tremendous sporting achievement deserves. I can easily understand how things are becoming increasingly difficult from the mental point of view for him, but the physical point of view I can't see any problems for him."
Five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain: "They are six very tough months leading up to the Tour and it gets harder each year. Every year you have to make more and more sacrifices. In previous years he was sure of his focus on the Tour but this year he had doubts. It seemed he had other ideas but has been obliged to do it. But he is a great professional, and once he decides on something he goes out to win it."
Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault: "At 33 he's perhaps beginning to worry if he can still do it. I'm sure his preparation is on course, but I don't think he has any team-mate capable of winning, so he is obliged to try again.
Armstrong's great rival Jan Ullrich: "Lance will be more fired up than ever to win what will be his last ever Tour. But his announcement also motivates me more than ever. I have always said that a Tour win carries more weight if Lance is there to beat. I will be giving it everything to beat him in his swansong."
Discovery Channel directeur sportif Dirk Demol: "We are going to try to find a successor to Armstrong, although everyone knows there isn't one in this world. We took a step in the right direction by hiring Yaroslav Popovych, but it is impossible to replace someone who has won the Tour six times."
Discovery team manager Johan Bruyneel: "When he told me about his decision at the start of February I understood right away that he was serious. I was prepared for it and I accepted it. It was important for him to make the announcement so that he can now concentrate on the Tour. Now we are going back to work."
Discovery team-mate Slava Ekimov: "Lance is the definition of professionalism. He leaves nothing to chance and knows exactly how to race and also when to rest. It has been an honour for me to have ridden for him."
Giro champion Damiano Cunego: "I would have been very disappointed not to have been able to ride the Tour with Armstrong in it. His announcement has reassured me. I now know that this possibility exists, that I will have the chance to be able to challenge him."
Filippo Simeoni, on the receiving end of Armstrong's wrath at last year's Tour: "His fight against cancer and his comeback really moved me. But there are a lot of doubts about him and too much arrogance on his part, and the incident at Lons le Saunier in the last Tour revealed his true face."
International Cycling Union president Hein Verbruggen: "I know that Armstrong has expressed the desire to remain active in the sport, to play a role in the defence of riders' interests. He would be a very important spokesman for them."